January 20, 2004
As you well know, I give a fair amount of thought to food (understatement of the year). Lately, I've been thinking more and more about the special ways in which we eat our food. In paying attention to this, I have noticed the host of small unconscious ceremonials that I conduct while eating, and I wanted to share them with you.
I hope you'll recognize yourself in this and I won't feel so neurotic.
The Last Bite Axiom says : "the last bite has to be the best". When eating a dish, I will always make sure to prepare for the last bite, reserving a little bit of the best elements of the dish as I go, in a specially designated area of my plate. Water/Wine Corollary : if thirsty, it is important to drink before the last bite, to maximize the lingering time of the last bite's sensory experience. (And please, do not just snitch a taste from my plate haphazardly, or you may very well have eaten my Last Bite.)
Fork and order. When I take multi-bites - by which I mean bites that include several food elements - I will plant my fork in the optimal order, depending on the relative tenderness and resistance of each piece. The softest one has to be picked first, so it can be pushed up by the tougher ones that follow. Otherwise, the more fragile food just gets squished or broken by the uncompromising one, all hell breaks loose and you've missed the opportunity for a perfectly formed forkful.
A sense of proportion. Fact : plates are often composed of several elements in varying quantities (meat or fish, vegetables, starch, condiment, garnish...). Challenge : one element cannot be allowed to overcome the others. Solution : I will adapt my eating rythm proportionately, keeping an eye on the level of remaining resources, to ensure that harmony reigns throughout the eating of the dish.
Breakfast toast. I like toasted bread in the morning, and I like having a nice variety of goodies to spread on it. At all times, I also have about seven or eight open jars of spreads, jams and nut butters to choose from. But I usually eat just one slice of bread, two at the most. So at every breakfast, I select the spreads that appeal to me the most, cut my bread slices in sections, and spread each with a different jam. I then proceed to eat the sections in a rotation, one bite of each at a time. While I chew, I make up my mind as to which spread I enjoy the most (and this depends on the type of bread and my mood). I may have to break the rotation to leave a bite of that one for last.
Pineapple. Vertically cut chunks of fresh pineapple are noticeably sweeter on one end, but I can never remember if it's the top or bottom. So I always start by taking a bite on each end to determine which is which, and then work my way up from tart to sweet.
Square of chocolate. In French cafés and restaurants, you often get a thin little square of chocolate wrapped in foil and paper with your coffee. (You can also find boxes of such chocolates in stores, to give to your guests. I myself have bought a box of Michel Cluzet chocolates of different origins at G. Detou, which I keep in my desk drawer at work for moments of discouragement.) When presented with a chocolate square, I snap it in two, turn it 90° and snap it in two again, to break it into four equal square sections. I then open the paper and foil, and nibble on those sections while drinking the coffee, ending with a bite of chocolate (see : Last Bite Axiom). All too often I see people gobble up their chocolate before the coffee has even started to cool down. This lack of foresight renders them quite chocolate-less when the coffee drinking times come. How they live through it I don't know.
The edge of the sandwich. All the scientists I've talked to agree that the edges constitute the least enjoyable area in a sandwich : this is where the bread crust is found and where the filling is scarce, so it's a bit on the dry side. But the edge is a necessary evil, in that it provides an easy grip on the sandwich, and a barrier to keep the filling inside and avoid excess spillage on your blue shirt. But of course, the last bite axiom (see : Last Bite Axiom) forbids me to eat the edge last. I have thus become very good at holding the sandwich by the center when the end is near, getting it over with the last of the edge without endangering the overall equilibrium, so I can enjoy a scrumptious last bite of generously filled central sandwich.
People talk about food for thoughts, I mostly have thoughts for food, what are you gonna do?
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The Omnivore's Hundred