Lombardi Column: For these folks, lunch is in the bag

“You forgot your lunch.” All over the North Fork you’ll hear parents call this after their kids — kids who leave their brown-bag lunches on the kitchen table as they head back to classes this September.

Oh, I know. There are some students who beg a few bucks from their folks each day and at noon they leave school and search out the nearest pizza. Other students buy school cafeteria lunches and survive quite nicely, thank you.

Students who brown-bag it may have, on a good day, a roast beef sandwich, an apple, some cookies. Pretty routine. All those newspaper columns about healthy eating suggest Mom or Dad tuck in a few carrot sticks. And a bottle of water. No soda.

Come to think of it, out-of-school, older people eat lunch, too. On-the-job North Fork folks start thinking about lunch as early as 10 a.m. I know I did. I usually pulled out a coffee yogurt I was going to save for an afternoon snack and dug in. Gone by 10:15.

I realize our North Fork restaurants and luncheonettes do a brisk lunch business. Deservedly so. Service is fast and friendly, food tasty, prices reasonable. But we’re eating in today, opening the brown bags we’ve packed. Seems appropriate this time of year.

Our first experienced brown-bagger is Chris Eten, a physician’s assistant working hard in Greenport. When Chris breaks for lunch he feasts on something nutritious, of course. On the day we spoke, Chris had enjoyed some cold chicken, an apple, yogurt and other easily packed and healthy stuff.

Actually Chris and his wife (they have two youngsters) both brown-bag. And Chris claims he never, ever forgets to bring his lunch to work. His secret? He puts his car keys on top of his lunch bag each night. No way he’s gonna drive to work in the morning without those keys or his lunch.

I admit to keeping something from Chris. On the day we met, my lunch consisted of chocolate ice cream and lots of it. Not from a brown bag but straight from the freezer.

On to another bagger. Pretty as the flowers surrounding her, Georgia Gabrielsen is a busy young woman. An elementary teacher, Georgia spends summers at her family’s business, Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport.

I’d stopped by to purchase a wagon-load of chrysanthemums and Georgia filled me in on her brown-bag habits. Her lunch is frequently just a turkey sandwich and water. That’s it. “Not enough,” I wanted to say, and did. A grade school teacher needs energy, lots of it.

“Always.” That’s what Southold’s Connie Monteforte said when I asked her if she ever brown-bagged her lunch. Connie decided early on that brown-bagging was easy and economical. Years ago Connie worked for Bulova Watch in big, glamorous Manhattan. Even so, she brought a yogurt and some fruit, possibly a hunk of last night’s roast, to work each day. Making a sandwich took too much time. Connie just grabbed whatever was in the refrigerator.

Now working in a Greenport thrift shop, Connie still totes her lunch and gently chides some younger North Forkers who are not inclined to brown-bag it. Connie is admirably thrifty. If she ever leaves her Greenport job, Connie should head up to Albany or down to D.C. Get those budgets in order.

Maybe Connie and I should scold Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. He’s a super supe and all that, but I got the goods on Scott when a member of his staff told me our supervisor “doesn’t even eat lunch.” Sandra Berliner said the supervisor has some mid-morning coffee, but that’s it. Sandra says she tries to tempt Scott with a piece of candy. No luck. However, according to Sandra, whenever her co-worker Ruthanne Woodhull bakes a carrot cake and brings it to work, Scott appears immediately and is not a bit shy about asking for a piece or two.

You know, if I were supervisor I’d use those few picnic tables under the trees in back of Town Hall. I’d brown-bag it at least a couple of times a week and have lunch with any North Forkers who happened to pass by. Think of what we’d all learn and the fun we’d have. No cellphones and yes, we’d keep the place spotless.

Brown-bag lunches are popular. Indeed, there are brown-bag lunch (and breakfast) stores from Maine to Florida. But if the North Fork were to have a brown-bag store, I’d suggest a different twist. Rather than ordering from a menu, a North Fork customer would purchase a filled bag, contents unknown until opening. That way there’s an element of surprise come lunchtime plus the opportunity to try something new. And think of the trade-offs among fellow workers. Trade my box of raisins for your container of tapioca. Like back in grade school where all this brown-bag business began.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.