I came across this phrase:

The problem facing companies today is that there are too many fishermen and not enough fish in the market. It’s a matter of eat lunch or be lunch — or, as stated by Gregory Rawlins, “If you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re a part of the road.”

What does eat lunch or be lunch mean in this context?

I take it it is a fight for survival when there is too much competition. If they cannot find the means of surviving then they will go out of business. It uses the metaphor of fish. If they need to catch a fish to eat and there only 5 fishes in the pool and ten fishermen then five will go hungry (fish=customers). Please correct me and share your idea to clarify.

  • 3
    It means find your place on the food chain.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 4:23
  • 6
    Kill or be killed. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 4:30
  • 6
    I would say the phrase is quite adequately explained in the very same sentence, and in the sentence before it. In a way your entire quote is all about explaining the phrase. What am I missing?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 11:31
  • 1
    Let's eat[,] Jim. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 15:35

5 Answers 5


The expression means that you're going to be either a predator (eat lunch) or a prey (be lunch). There won't be anything "neutral" or "in between."


As others have alluded, the expression describes the difference between winning (eat lunch — enjoy the spoils of success) or losing (be lunch — suffer the consequences of loss) metaphorically.


"You're the butcher or you're the cattle"

... Residents of Terminus, Walking Dead Season 5


This brings about the concept of the survival of the fittest.

Let's take a wrestling match for example:

"Tom, when you get out in the ring, it's either you eat lunch, or be lunch!"

This person is telling Tom to eliminate whoever is out there in the ring, and show no mercy. If Tom doesn't eliminate someone, he will be eliminated. Thus, the concept of the survival of the fittest.

"Eat lunch or be lunch" originated from the eco-system where in a food chain, it is either you hunt down animals to eat, or you will be hunted down by animals to eat. A similar concept would be the Hunger Games.


Survival of the fittest. You have to be strong enough so that you're not taken advantage of. Also, you should be able to take advantage of others weaknesses, but never show yours.

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