In another triumph for the PR profession (of which I am a longstanding member), next week has been designated British Sandwich Week, in an attempt to celebrate a foodstuff which this country invented, and yet which we have largely allowed to become a pale and insipid shadow of the dish it could be.

It is widely thought that the sandwich was invented by the Earl of Sandwich, an inveterate but hungry gambler who didn’t want to interrupt his game, so asked for some roast beef to be placed between two slices of bread so he could eat with his hands.

Less well known is his gambling buddy the Duke of Toastee, who was sat the other side of the table, right next to the fire.  When his sandwich arrived it got a bit charred and, well, the rest is history.

A proper sandwich is a wondrous thing.  Properly made, with quality bread, it can fulfil all sorts of culinary needs.

A bacon butty to soothe a hangover; mature cheddar and homemade pickle in between two doorstep slices of sourdough; a steak sandwich with soft, fried onions.  

The shame, then, is that the vast majority of the sandwiches we consume today are of the pre-packed supermarket variety: curled bread chilled to the point where it has no taste whatsoever, stingy fillings, too much mayonnaise which has soaked into the bread, something which would cause it to disintegrate if it wasn’t more or less frozen solid.

As a nation, we spend more than £8 billion on pre-made sandwiches every year.  That figure would keep the NHS going for more than a fortnight; it is a staggering 17 times what we spend on supporting arts organisations in the UK annually; it would be enough to give everybody who used a foodbank last year enough to feed their families for the entire year, by some margin.

The invention in the 1990s of those evil triangular boxes containing the ready-made sandwich didn’t only rob us of our money, though; just as importantly, it robbed us of our lunchtimes, and as a PR man, that is unforgiveable.

When I first started out in my noble profession, it was unthinkable that we would waste our lunchtimes sitting at our desks eating sad, overpriced sandwiches.  Lunchtime was an event, a chance to get away from the desk, enjoy some decent food (not to mention a glass or two of wine), and take a break.

Today we are much more ready to talk about mental health issues than ever before.

We see lots of excellent advice being given about looking after our minds as well as our bodies.  But in all of that, I have yet to see anyone mention one factor which I believe (and I’m being quite serious) has had a huge negative effect on the wellbeing of our workplaces: the demise of lunch.

Partly it’s to do with the expectation that we should be giving every waking hour to our employers.  Partly it’s down to the culture of being ‘always available’ which has grown out of our slavery to mobile devices.  Whatever it is, the disappearance of a proper lunch break from the working day is tragic.

It is a stretch to suggest that ready-made sandwiches are responsible for the deterioration in the nation’s mental health.  But each of the four billion sandwiches we buy every year represents a lost opportunity to stop and take a proper lunch, which would unquestionably contribute to our wellbeing. 

An opportunity to take a break from work, to socialise (because loneliness is another of the growing causes of mental health problems), and also a chance to support our struggling local independent restaurants and cafes.

Three cheers then for Richard Ellis, chef-proprietor at Norwich’s Britons Arms, who is marking British Sandwich Week with ‘The Ultimate Norfolk Piggy Club Sandwich’.

 Not one for vegetarians, it is a gut-busting celebration of Norfolk produce, from bread baked at Ketts Hill Bakery to British Lop pigs raised by Thatched House Farm in south Norfolk.

More importantly, his eye-catching dish is the perfect advertisement for leaving the office and taking the time to enjoy a proper lunch.  

Other, less calorific sandwiches are available (their homemade fish finger and tartar sauce is a particular favourite of mine).

The days of the boozy two hour business lunch may be numbered (sadly), but even a cheap, simple lunch with friends remains one of life’s great pleasures.  That could be a full three-course meal, or a simple, well-made sandwich.

If British Sandwich Week can help create a world in which lunchtime becomes a crucial part of our wellbeing, then I support it wholeheartedly.

But if it turns out to be a cynical attempt to get us to buy even more ready-made sandwiches to eat at our desk, then this is one PR initiative we can do without.