Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SLOW FOOD – And That's An Order!

The caricature in my high school yearbook showed me shoving three hot dogs, buns and all, into my mouth at the same time.

I just assumed that, come mealtime, I’d sit down, the food would be there and I’d eat it.

Being the son of a restaurateur, you'd think I'd have known and appreciated
food more than that. Someone like me was supposed to dine, not wolf it down
like a starving man. I suppose, like most teenagers, I didn’t have much time for eating—or anything that didn’t involve learning, sports or my friends. I must
have just assumed that, come mealtime, I’d sit down, the food would be there
and I’d eat it.

At any rate, it took a stint in the US Army for me to realize that food was no
longer something I could—or would—take for granted.

                                            ~//~          ~//~          ~//~

It was July, I was at Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training, and I was the lowest of the low. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an oppressive collusion of heat, humidity, physical exertion and psychological intimidation.

After a grueling day of drilling, marching and physical training, punctuated by verbal and physical harassment, even that staple of institutional feeding, “shit on a shingle” (creamed beef on toast) was looking mighty good to me.

Our drill instructors made us perch on just the 
front two inches of our chairs while we ate.

But the powers that be, in their efforts to strip us recruits of any pretense of autonomy, weren’t about to make anything easy, not even a well-deserved meal. In a trick borrowed from the Marines, our drill instructors made us perch on just the front two inches of our chairs while we ate.

You can imagine how hard it is to relax and enjoy a meal with your tailbone grinding on that unforgiving edge, your thighs straining to support some of your weight. The good news was that, at worst, we’d only have to endure the pain for ten minutes; that’s how long they gave us to eat.

And, as if that weren’t enough abuse, the guy serving mess that night (that pimply, gap-toothed guy from Arkansas, drunk with power from his recent promotion to corporal), might have been having a bad day—or maybe just hated you because you went to college—in which case you got only half a portion.

So, as much as I’d have loved to really enjoy those grudging morsels, I learned to shut up and chow down. In fact, if such a thing were possible, I learned to eat even faster in the Army than I did in high school.

The whole experience was about as close to incarceration as I ever hope to get. All the while I dreamed of freedom—especially the freedom to take my time and really savor a meal.

Ever since my last day at Fort Dix, I’ve seized that dream. So much so that a present-day update of that high school caricature would more accurately show me leisurely sniffing the bouquet of those hot dogs. A real lunch laggard, a dinner dawdler,, I've got it: a mealtime mullosk.

Don't they realize the freedom, the privilege, the gift of an unhurried meal?

I see so many poor folks rushing their meals these days, acting as if eating were the last thing in the world they want to be doing. Don't they realize the freedom, the privilege, the gift of an unhurried meal?

Slow food?

Now I’m certainly no connoisseur, so it doesn’t take fancy cooking to please me. But I know good food when I taste it and appreciate the dining experience on many levels. Whether it’s a burger and shake or sake-poached prawns with rutabaga confit, I enjoy every nuance of presentation, taste and texture. Not to mention the good conversation a leisurely meal so often nourishes.

For this I must thank my parents, of course. It was they who set such a good example for me of patience, discrimination and moderation. But I give even more credit to Corporal Billy-Bob or whatever his name was and United States Army for teaching me about freedom.

So...this might be a good time to apologize to my family and friends for the countless aggregate hours they've patiently—and not so patiently—waited for me to finish my meals. I hope this helps explain my odd behavior.


savvy kenya said...

This post resonates with me.. When I was younger I barely had time to eat my food. Nowadays if I'm not seated comfortably (ambience too) and don't have enough time, I will not enjoy my meal

OneStonedCrow said...

Haha ... great angle on a subject many of us take for granted - I must confess that I'm a 'casual' Wolfer but have been known to appreciate a lengthy mealtime session.

Your post makes me recall my childhood family supper sessions ... being seven kids, my parents were very strict on table manners - sit up straight, no elbows on the table and no talking ... but worst of all, no one leaves the table before everyone has finished eating ...

... one of my sisters was a painfully reluctant eater and often we'd sit in silence for a lifetime, inwardly fuming and wishing she'd choke ...

... maybe that's why I'm a Wolfer today ...

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi savvy - How nice to have your presence here this morning! I'm glad my post struck a chord in you. Food's such a great medium for slowing down and relaxing -- what a shame we so seldom make time for it. Bon appétit

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey OSCrow -- Thanks for your comment. Sounds like your your eating habits stem from the opposite of my army experience -- in your case, a sort of forced tedium. No wonder you relish not relishing your food ;-)
I love your blog and need to remind myself to drop in more often.

spldbch said...

I'm often in a rush to get out of the house and off to work in the mornings, so my breakfast is always eaten in a hurry. Most of the time I don't even bother sitting down; I know it would make me eat slower.

I do, however, recognize the benefit of a meal savored slowly. I especially like what you said about enjoying the good conversation of a meal with friends or family. I've noticed that I eat a lot more slowly (and a lot less too) when I'm eating (and talking) with other people.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey spldbch -- Thanks for sharing your experience with "fast" food. I guess it's like other things we'd like to prioritize in our hectic lives: it works better if we can institutionalize the behavior. In this case, that might mean one or two meals a week -- say, Tuesday supper and Sunday brunch -- designated as "slow food" meals. Just a thought...

pea said...

I enjoy your stories! What an interesting experience. I have watched films about the navy and the army where this legal sadism occurs, but I've never met someone who has gone through it....come to think of it, maybe one other person. Whilst it is harsh I like the discipline and respect that it installs. The other guy I am thinking of still shines his shoes until he sees his face in them today.
As for slow eating. I am all for it. I like to eat healthily and an important part of that has to be the mental appreciation that not everyone in the world gets to eat when they want to and as much as they want to. So I like to savour and enjoy with acknowledgment and gratitude.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for the comment, Pea -- I can see your point about the need for discipline in the armed forces, but that kind still chafes on my perhaps outsized notion of personal dignity and independence.
Good for you for your mindful eating habits! Bon appétit!

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