Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Socially mandated eating is tough to swallow

I remember one day in sixth-grade health class with Mrs. Meschke, circa 1992, we were listing forms of recreation on the chalkboard.

After the typical walking and skateboarding and playing sports answers were taken, somebody raised his hand and said, "Eating." We all laughed. But Mrs. Meschke said, "No, that's very true. In America, eating is very much recreational."

I flashed to the TV dinners my sister and I had the night before in our living rooms, and I didn't quite get it.
Homogenized chicken nuggets in front of the tube didn't seem like a swingin' Thursday night to me.

Of course, years later, license in hand, I understood what she meant. A night's entertainment in Fairmont meant two things: driving around in cars with friends and boys, and, of course, consumption. Consumption of what, I'll leave
mostly to your imagination, but I will tell you that ice cream at the Dairy Freeze and fried foods at various area establishments were included.

As an early teen, it was fun to exist solely on French fries and gummy bears. But when my butt ballooned and it was time to deal with it, I really started to take notice of how important consumption is to social situations. It was almost mandatory, and it still is to this very day.

When a movie let out, for example, and a friend said, "Hey, let's go to Perkins and get something to eat." It
was not an acceptable answer to say, "I'll go with you and have a Diet Coke or something. I'm not hungry." She would get a pained expression on her face and say, "Oh ... well, I'm sure you can find SOMETHING you'll want to eat."

Then at the restaurant, when I ordered my Diet Coke and shut the menu, she said, "Really? Is that all you're
going to have? Well now I feel like a pig. Do you just want to go?"

I was puzzled. Why would what I put in my mouth or not put in my mouth have any bearing on her? What difference did it make if I joined her in a plate of fries and a chocolate malt at 11 at night?

It just mattered. It did. And many similar situations have come up in the 15 years that have followed, proving that if someone asks you to get something to eat with them, it is not an acceptable answer to say, "I'll go with you. But I'm not hungry." Because said person will then look crestfallen and say we can just skip it.

It's so odd that eating has to be a shared experience in a social situation. I feel like a toddler squirming in my chair trying to avoid getting nasty peas shoved in my mouth.

Parties, barbecues, picnics -- any event with a host, really -- it's the same story. If your gracious host sees that you have not partaken in the buffet they have so generously laid out for you, they almost look hurt. "Is there something wrong with the foods that I have so painstakingly prepared for you?" they ask without words. "Are you anorexic? Just rude? Do you think I can't cook? Because I can!"

I'm exaggerating. But there's a grain of truth there. And it will befuddle me for as long as I live, or at least as
long as I diet. So, friends, hit me up in 50 years or so for that 11 p.m. trip to Perkins. Maybe by then I won't care about calories.

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