Ploughman’s Lunch

One of my favourite things to order from an eating establishment is a ploughman’s lunch.

It sounds like an ancient meal, something from a simpler, agricultural time. I remember buying a book that collected a series of sermons from Charles Spurgeon from the 1800s – the John Plowman talks – there was a whole group of people who were at an educational disadvantage, and the standard-bearer for them was the ploughman (or plowman).

Looking further into the history of this meal, there is more evidence of the idea of the noble concept of the simple life – Richard Baxter in 1830, seeking to explain the idea of how the rich might be saved (in Matthew 19:26 and Luke 18:27) speaks about the bread and cheese of the ploughman being more pleasant, and better for health, than the indulgent food of the rich.

As it turns out though, this staple (one of a handful of distinctly British dishes outlined in this review of the various carbon emission levels of different British meals) was initially promoted by ad agency J Walter Thomson, contracted to the British Cheese Bureau (for example, here is the ploughman’s lunch in a newspaper article from 1958. From there, it was popularised by the British “Milk Marketing Board” in the 1960s in an effort to help pubs sell more cheese. Widely regarded as an advertising łmasterstroke, people now seek to put their own spin on the meal (eg this paleo take on the Ploughman’s).

As you think through how to eat a ploughman’s, think back to its origins, a simpler part of history, and the ability to focus on one thing at a time.

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