Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Etiquette of Eating

Not 'which fork do I use?' Start on the outside and work your way in. Trés simple. Hmph.

No, Pretty Lady's measured decision to embark upon a Rant about Rude Eaters stems from something far more insidious, and regrettably prevalent in her social circles--that is, Self-Righteous, Controlling Pickiness, masked as either Ethical Concerns or Allergies. Pretty Lady has decided that it is high time to grind such offensive pretension into the asphalt, under her stoutest set of heels. She is not kidding. You are all forewarned.

You see, Pretty Lady has observed that the so-called New Age Movement, really a movement of Magical Wishful Thinking under a superficial cloak of poorly-digested mysticism, has given rise to a side-branch of Sanctified Food Victims. The locus of this cult appears to be somewhere in the vicinity of Northern California, but at last report the virus appeared to have spread as far as Sedona, Austin, Pittsburgh, and even into the heart of New York City Proper, if the dinner-party she attended last February is any indication.

This must at all costs be stopped, or we will all be eating our dinners of sawdust and lentils, topped off with twelve Dunkin Donuts, in the isolation of our coat closets, afraid to dine with other humans at all, and Society as we know it shall grind to a halt.

For eating, my darlings, is not merely an act to fortify the grosser incarnations of Spirit. It is, equally, a central form of social communion. And communion requires commonality. Not blackmail.

Please understand, Pretty Lady is not thereby advocating torture, murder, heart disease, unmitigated suffering, cancer, or incipient obesity. She does not intend to force-feed anybody poison. She merely wishes to remind her readers of a few basic principles, which, in the course of their relentless pursuit of Immortality, Enlightenment, and Preternatural Slimness, they appear to have forgotten.

1) A serious 'food allergy' is life-threatening. A serious 'food sensitivity' is not.

Pretty Lady has a much-beloved brother who has suffered from a peanut allergy since infancy. If Pretty Lady's little brother consumes peanut butter amounting to one-quarter-teaspoon, he will presently find himself on an operating table, his physical incarnation inflated to the size of the Goodyear Blimp, with a needle full of adrenalin being plunged into his aorta. That is if he is lucky. This has actually happened.

This, friends, is what you had better mean when Pretty Lady takes a loaf of fresh-baked raisin brioche out of the oven, offers it with a pot of Darjeeling and a pat of European butter, and you reply, "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm allergic to wheat." Not, "I kind of get a subtle funny feeling sometimes, when I eat wheat, maybe." Not "I'm a vegan because the way the dairy industry treats its cows is unconscionable." Not "I've decided not to eat today because I'm pushing the limits of my physical endurance in order to expand my creativity."

Pretty Lady hereby intolerantly declares these latter statements to be Rude. Rude, rude, rude. They do not create Unity and Enlightenment; they create an Offended Hostess. Not to mention a roly-poly hostess, forced to eat a whole loaf of raisin brioche all by herself.

2) It is impossible to both be a vegan/vegetarian and to travel worldwide without either starving to death, or creating an International Incident. Pick one.

Pretty Lady never ceases to be shocked by the number of peace-loving, multicultural, open-minded adventurers who wander blithely into foreign lands and aggressively turn up their noses at the costly delicacies offered them by the inhabitants, who wish only to honor their guests and form lasting bonds of friendship. What are these people thinking? Were they born in barns?

She has observed that persons of her acquaintance who have visited France either think of the French as delightful, or as dreadfully snobbish and rude. Upon further questioning, she believes that this division comes about at the moment a visitor to France is offered a bit of exquisite local cheese. The visitor who accepts it, inhales it, swallows it (mold, maggots and all) and asks for more, will be roundly welcomed and celebrated forevermore. The visitor who reacts as if they have just been offered moldy, maggotty, rotting unpasteurized milk will be scorned and despised.

So if you don't like it, stay home.

3) Any 'scientific theory' which contradicts the test of several million years of hunting, gathering, natural selection, rich, subtle cuisine development, and traditional mythology is not 'scientific.' It is 'quackery.'

Pretty Lady recently had a very dear friend tell her, with a straight face, that table salt was toxic. "It contains Chlorine! And Sodium! Horrors!" declared the friend.

Her friend grew up in a sheltered suburb, as did Pretty Lady. But even Pretty Lady has read those fairy tales about a land without salt, where the citizens became sick unto death until the king was forced to admit to his ostracized daughter that salt was an important thing, after all. She has read about farmers putting salt licks down for the cows. She has read about electrolyte balance, and cell membranes. These things are all just as much in print as the treatises about the toxicity of salt; they're spelled more conventionally, too.

Pretty Lady respectfully submits that any 'healthy diet' which omits or radically alters an enormous chunk of the food spectrum, as included in the world's great cuisines, is based upon incomplete and dangerous 'scientific evidence.' Excess is the path to Ruin; this excess can just as well include an excess of avoidance as of gluttony. Avoidance of all fat, salt, carbohydrates, protein, and sugar strikes her as a good way to starve to death. As well as never to get invited back to dinner parties.

4) Nobody cares about your Issues, particularly when they're hungry.

Once upon a time, while living in Northern California, Pretty Lady was presented with a letter of introduction by a Friend of a Friend. This girl seemed charming, earnest, and spiritual, and Pretty Lady welcomed her into her circle with open arms. The two of them went to aerobics class together, to saunas, and for sushi.

The friend of the friend seemed really to appreciate her sushi; she exulted in every bite, with closed eyes. Pretty Lady found this habit to be delightfully mindful and appreciative.

Gradually, however, this person proved to be a Bulimic in Epicure's Clothing. She became needy; she became controlling; she became passive-aggressive. It got so that she started inviting herself to dinner. After doing so, she would regretfully veto every one of six or seven home-cooked options for the content thereof; she would do the same for the list of available restaurants. When, at great length, an acceptable restaurant was decided upon, she would hold up the service staff for ten minutes, attempting to order something that was not on the menu. When, at last, food was provided, she took two bites, declared 'There's too much oil," flung it down, and proceeded to have an Emotional Crisis.

In Northern California, regrettably, the vast majority of persons tolerate this sort of behavior. If anyone happens to declare, intolerantly, "You are being rude; I am hungry; stop making this All About You," this person is likely to be rounded upon and excoriated for Insensitivity. If there is any sort of underlying Emotional Issue involved, infinite patience and suffering on the part of the assembled company appears to be de rigueur.

Pretty Lady moved away from Northern California. Now, to her deep terror, the disease of social hijacking regarding one's personal food fetishes appears to be spreading. Please, darlings, stop the spread of this vicious trend without mercy. The foundations of Civilization may be at stake.


Anonymous said...

(Stands and applauds vigorously)

Brava! Brava!

Anonymous said...

Good Lord. Please stop this immediately, and leave it to Miss Manners. Ouch.

Pretty Lady said...

I would never dream of infringing upon dear Judith's territory, darling. I am a Harlot, as is well-known. However I am a Harlot with Standards, and must speak out when they are violated.

Pretty Lady said...

Barak, my dear, you know as well as I that your courtesy in matters culinary has ever been impeccable.

Painful and odiferous symptoms fall squarely in the category of 'legitimate excuses.' Pretty Lady does not carry emergency Beano.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the rare exceptions of individuals like Barak, who I genuinely feel sympathy for because of a true medical condition - most of these people are motivated by politics and spectacle.

There is always the inelegant solution of providing a non-negotiable dinner menu in advance to your potential guests, whereupon they can vent their spleens and/or decide not to attend. This will remove some of the more violent offenders from the guest list, and they will be torn between missing the Event or holding the line in the culinary wars. Best of all, you can drop very subtle hints that the ones who don't attend because of silly foodstuff posing will be Discussed at table.

Of course, I do not admit guests into my home that engage in such banal frippery. If you do not like your porterhouse pink to cool red in the middle then you are welcome to leave and never come back. I suppose I could make an exception for the rare vegan, although I would imagine them to be very uncomfortable in my den of shamelessly predatorial carnivores.


k said...

FINALLY! So good to see this topic addressed. You may see a cousin of your diatribe over at my house at some point; it's another one that's been floating in embryonic form in the back of my brain for quite a while.

Food is meant to be enjoyed. A good, healthy, social type of enjoyment is what *I* had in mind. The enjoyment of throwing a conniption fit and flinging oneself about in the throes of Drama Queen suffering, to be tenderly caught and succored by one's Friends and Admirers - over NOTHING - is not the sort of enjoyment I was referring to.

The Aardvark said...

Huzzahs and standing "O"s.

I am SO linking to this one.

Phony press-release mills like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are the wellspring of this problem. (My Chinese takeout has never been the same since they declared MSG to be Bad For You.)

A dear friend sent the hoary old "don't microwave plastic wrap" spam to me awhile back. I sent her to Gently.

Personally, I would put the Snopes crew up for Beatification.

Anyway, well played, PL.

Anonymous said...

There are so many varied and creative ways to decline an offer in a kind and gentle manner that I am very disappointed when a guest doesn't even choose to use those.

I enjoy food. I enjoy cooking. I have endured many terrible meals while thoroughly enjoying the company. I have complimented the cook on her dedication, her creativity and her hospitality without once mentioning the sauce was heavy, the pasta over done and the wine quite less than extraordinary.

The point being that when we choose to make the event about our own needs instead of the blessing of our relationships we miss the point entirely!

On a personal note, a friend has invited my in-laws to her home for dinner. (we belong to the same church). Because my in-laws are so incredibly picky and vocal about their food issues, my friend has chosen to 1) un-invite them (which is a loss for both families) or 2) has asked me to cook the meal for them since she knows they'll eat whatever I make.

My children aren't allowed to be this rude and they are still in single digits!

Bob said...

One of the few reasons why I liked Clinton... he was a great fan of a Big Mac and fries.

The Aardvark said...

Wow, Heidi.

Good for you, and good for your kids.

This asinine belief that diarrhoeic vocal rudeness somehow translates into "Honesty"
needs to be shoved back into the pit from whence it came.

As they say in The Vulgar Tongue:
Good on you!

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with saying no thank you. You don't need to turn it into a turd.

When visiting other coutries/cultures, maybe that's another matter.

But stating, firmly, that you are not interested in eating the pig intestines is an acceptable course.

If you don't think so, kick me out.

I'll live either way.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I've eaten insects, monkey brains, worms, and drank yak's urine. But I don't choose to anymore. Enjoy your hospitatilty.

And Crom, ask me why and I'd explain, at your table, while I hunger. But I wouldn't say a word if you didn't ask.

Pretty Lady said...

Thims, that is, indeed, courtesy. "No thank you" is an utterly acceptable answer. Going on at great and unsolicited length about why you are saying 'no thank you' is the booting-out sin.

Desert Cat said...

I was thrilled today to see a long-term study published that establishes the safety of low-carb diets. Not only that, but it turns out that low-fat, high refined carb diets are actually less healthy.

Here's to carte blanche for *this* omnivore (with the possible exception of dessert).

k said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
k said...

I have those extreme food allergies. And now, diabetes. One would think it would suffice to say, *No thank you.*

It almost never does.

What to do? I really don't want to expose the horrorific details of my food allergy symptoms in public. Many of them devolve into that painful and odiferous nightmare of Barak's.

Saying *I'm allergic* ought to do the trick. People often either still press the particular food on me (!), or, out of curiosity or a show of concern, want to know *All the News* about what happens.

I'm as slippery as an eel when I don't want to be pinned down. However, the pressure to Tell All gets so bad it almost drives me to the point of resentment.

Lately, I find that saying *I'm diabetic* does do the trick.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, PL!!! This was a much-needed missive; may I have your permission to photocopy it and post it about town?

In Lawrence, we have an inordinate number of vegetarians and vegans, and they are all vociferous in their eating choices and will not hesitate to berate you for yours. (Being one who doesn't care to eat meat that I haven't raised and/or killed myself, we have *some* common ground on this, but they refuse to acknowledge it.) We also have a larger-than-average panhandling community. Most of our good restaraunts are located on the same downtown street that the beggars frequent, so quite often I find myself handing over boxed-up leftovers to those claiming to be hungry. On at least one occasion I have had the box, I believe it was filled with the remains of a delicious shrimp tetrazzini, handed back to me as I was told quite scornfully, "I don't eat meat, lady, what were you thinking?" "Well, I was thinking that you were hungry, which you obviously aren't." "I'm hungry, lady, I just don't eat meat!" "Well then, no, I'm sorry, you're not hungry. Pretentious, perhaps, but not hungry. Good luck with your evening."

Anonymous said...


If someone took the trouble to explain politely to me in advance why they could not eat the main course I would not eject them or uninvite them, because if I thought enough of the person to invite them to my table I most likely would be willing to provide some sort of alternative fare.

However, throwing a fit and sneering at the food that I prepared will guarantee the person's backside will be unhappily (for them) introduced to the steel toe on my size 12's. Perhaps this makes me a boor, and I will have to suffer the agonies of being yclept thusly.

The real issue here is the abuse of the notion of manners in a civilized society. Someone who melts down publicly over the oil content in a salad as opposed to merely sending it back to the kitchen is abusing the tenets of civilized manners. Also, they expect that instead of having someone respond to them in a like fashion, they expect their outburst to both provide them with the room's strict attention, and by playing the indignant card the person positions themselves in a role of superiority.

The solution is of course, to remove the offender in a manner which not only is humiliating, but with enough force to discourage others from attempting a similar ploy. I have walked many a young punk out of a bar while he sputtered curses and threats only to have him completely back down once we are outside in the side alley. It seems that the bravery in front of a crowd is greatly diminished when you have someone willing and capable to treat you with the same disdain that you had displayed earlier.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


Damn you Blogspot for the double post!


Pretty Lady said...

Never you mind, dears, Pretty Lady removed the double posts.

Mitzibel, one now has a bit more of a clue about why this panhandler ended up panhandling in the first place. An associate of mine once declared, "By the time a person ends up on the street, you know that they have to have bitten the hand that feeds them a whole lot of times."

This is, of course, not universal, but it is something to consider.

Crom, you are absolutely correct--these sorts of tantrums are a parasitic abuse of other people's good manners. That's why I call it blackmail.

And k and Barak--it seems that it is never the egregious sufferers, such as yourselves, who make this sort of fuss. It's like that awful woman who sued for sexual harassment because a male co-worker looked at her website and said, 'Nice bazongas!' When she was the one who had posted the bikini photo in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Mitzibel: I lived in Larryville (City of Magic) from 1981 to 1986. You should have just told him to look in the back alley that runs down Mass for all the free food he wanted from the dumpsters.

Lawrence was always a lefty city even back then, it must have gotten a lot worse.

We used to call it San Francisco East.

Used to be a cool town especially in the summer when all the students left.

Really loved that place.


Anonymous said...

johnR--It still is a wonderful city, even if it is run by a bunch of nanny-state liberals. We now have a universal smoking ban in all bars and restaraunts--can you even *imagine* what the Replay bathrooms smell like without the cloying haze of Marlboro smoke blocking your nasal receptors? 15-16-year olds from Johnson County minivan in on the weekends to "panhandle", it seems to be some sort of new fad. And it is still a tiny piece of Heaven both in the summer when it is quiet and all the old-school freaks come out to play, and in the fall, when it is sometimes possible to medicate oneself enough to go out and enjoy the gorgeous foilage and yet block out the rushing Greeks.