“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” – MFK Fisher
One of my friends is a half-Asian stunner who loves food as much as I do. We were sharing some very forgettable Indian tapas and swapping stories about our love lives.
“He’s great, and so sweet,” she said of her boyfriend. “But I know he’s not the One. He doesn’t like to eat.”
She imitated his face when she forced him to try something new. It looked like a beaten puppy. “He’ll at least try it,” she allowed.
Wedding bells were not in their future.
Another foodie friend, along with a requirement that prospective dates should take regular showers, stipulated the following: “[He] can’t blanch at the idea of eating a roasted pig’s head.”
I feel their pain. I once tried to turn a carnivore onto the idea of eating vegetarian pizza. Nothing scary – just a Mexican black bean pizza smothered in cheese, beans, salsa, and guac, on an addictive flatbread crust. I scarfed down a scrumptious Portobello mushroom pizza while a third of his dish remained untouched.
I will never forget what he said next.
“Do you know what would make this better?” he asked. “Meat.”
“You didn’t even finish it,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “I already ate.”
“Because I didn’t think I would like it,” he said.
“Ah,” I replied, aghast.
The thing is, as many of my foodie friends have expressed, it’s not so much the literal crumbs that you’re willing to put in your mouth.* Conduct at the dinner table is all to expressive of conduct elsewhere – and indeed, the self-professed carnivore was equally dogmatic on other matters.
And it’s not just about what you’re willing to eat. It’s also about why you’re there in the first place.
There have been beautiful meals I’ve eaten with soul-shreddingly horrible conversations. I remember one of them – the food was inventive and beautifully presented. The service was flawless; the dining room perfectly balancing elegant and unpretentious.
But dinner conversation consisted of him talking about the money he made and the venture capitalists he tried to impress. “I’ve dated legitimate models,” he mused, then recounted accosting a blonde, South African lovely.
As my spoon broke the surface of the creme brulee, his reaction was to whine that I’d stolen his next move. The food might as well have been sawdust.
Being a food blogger adds another twist in the story. Dining companion’s reactions to my camera is a litmus test of sorts. And those reactions run the gamut, everything from, “I should bring my LSR next time! Here’s my plate. Do you want to photograph the bread basket too?” to sullen tolerance, sabotaging the plating before I finish, and outright sneering.
Maybe it’s petty for me to add a third party to the relationship, but if you can’t love the camera, mealtimes will be very, very awkward.
“Eating is such an intimate act,” one dining companion complained as I did my rounds.
In one shot, he’s caught looking into the camera with an expression somewhere between death and surprise. Possibly closer to death.
My gorgeous friend? When we caught up two months later, she and her boyfriend had broken up.
People are what make the food. But some of us need the right people to eat well.
* Lingbo’s note: I got a comment from a reader about the ethics of using the quote included, without context, “I always order the equivalent of steak and potatoes,” in a column for The Harvard Crimson. I initially thought that I did something wrong and removed the line. But actually, there is nothing unethical about it, and I regret that I edited the post – which was my misstep. Here’s how it appears originally: A guy who says, “I always order the equivalent of steak and potatoes,” no matter what the restaurant is expressing a generalizable facet of his personality.