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Bite-sized book examines the politics of brunch

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2014 (1124 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's Sunday. You get up later than normal, nursing a bit of a hangover and need sustenance (as well as maybe some hair-of-the-dog action) to get you through the day.

The first thought that comes to mind: brunch.

For Toronto-via-Windsor author Shawn Micallef, this between-breakfast-and-lunch ritual has become a painfully drawn-out affair, a quasi-status symbol used by the so-called "creative class."

The Trouble With Brunch is part of Coach House's Exploded Views series -- novella-length pieces of writing. At 100-plus small but crammed pages, you can essentially blast through a chapter while waiting in line to eat brunch at a hip eatery.

Micallef, a Toronto Star columnist and co-owner/senior editor of Spacing magazine, is also the author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, as well as Full Frontal TO, and teaches at the University of Toronto and OCAD University.

None of which outright qualifies one to write about brunch, of course. But his perspective of brunching in Toronto -- especially versus his hometown of Windsor, from which he moved 14 years ago -- helps Micallef use brunch as a way to explore notions of class that are pretty compelling.

Rather than step on a soapbox with a bullhorn, Micallef's thoughtful ruminations on class, leisure and brunch are opportunities to examine the choices we make in our own lives.

To Micallef, Windsor (to whom the book is dedicated) is an industrial town where blue-collar workers are the norm -- people work towards a house, the cars in the garage and other tangible (but costly) items at one job, with the "glass floor" providing a glimpse as to how it could all unravel at any time. A Windsor brunch is typically more utilitarian: it's a speedy affair usually associated with holidays, is served in cultural centres or hotel restaurants, there's rarely a lineup and turnover is quick.

Brunch in Toronto, however, is more of a social affair -- there are long waits to sit at hip, rustic "working-class" restaurants, where people spend uncomfortably long periods of time eating food that's typically unhealthy and only sometimes satisfying. (In Winnipeg, it could be argued both types of brunch exist.)

Most of us plot ourselves as being part of the middle class, says Micallef, whether we are or not. The creative class, meanwhile -- self-employed/freelance types such as writers, graphic designers, developers and scientists -- is a subset of this middle class, but is fractured and disparate; says Micallef, "this new class hasn't a class consciousness in the same way traditional working-class populations did."

The creative class has moved toward "conspicuous consumption" -- more identity/lifestyle-based status symbols: "The creative class has eschewed the old expressions of affluence, the mansions and expensive cars, for lifestyle experiences like food... to create their identity."

Micallef looks at brunch in the context of leisure, and how in an age where the creative class has less time for themselves -- the 9-to-5 schedule and (relative) security aren't there as they are for the working class -- they're spending/wasting it (and their money) sitting around eating brunch.

There's really only one chapter where Micallef details a particular brunch experience of his own, a charming tale of dining in Buenos Aires that notes the similarities to his Toronto brunch experiences and concludes with a rallying cry: "If the near-identical customs of brunch could spread to Argentina, there's little to stop a sense of class identity and consciousness from forming between brunchers here and elsewhere..."

The book ends with ways in which some have reclaimed brunch, providing hope that brunchers can rally around something other than overpriced, boring old hollandaise sauce.


Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the Free Press literary editor.

Read more reviewed by Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson.


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Updated on Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 8:41 AM CDT: Formatting.

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