Enjoy your meal

That seems straightforward enough. It’s the kind of thing many waiters and waitresses say as they leave your table, having just served your meal. And if the alternative is not enjoying your meal, I think it is the best of the options.

But enjoying and not enjoying your meal are not the only options. There is, for instance, paying no attention to your meal at all.

meal 2I ask you to imagine that sitting down at a table with friends to eat a meal is really just a palette; it is an occasion that you will use to paint a picture of yourself. In this scenario, the meal itself is just a color, just a tool. In such a setting, it makes no more sense to say “Enjoy your meal” than it would to say to an artist, “Enjoy your yellow.”

Thought of in that way, the meal is a just a way of presenting yourself and “enjoying it” is something you would do if it advances that program. So to properly appreciate “Enjoy your meal,” we need to start back a little farther with “Pay attention to your meal.”

If you do pay attention to your meal, judging it for what it is, rather than for what is says about you, you might not enjoy it at all. I have had meals, and so have you, that are best endured, rather than enjoyed. The meat is overdone, the potatoes are lumpy, and the asparagus, having been served twice now, has developed a texture you really don’t want to encounter at the table.

If I were a positive person who was paying attention to all the possibilities for pleasure available to me at the time, I would concentrate on the people who were there, if there were a really good wine to go with this really awful meal, I would hope to enjoy it fully. There is no reason, in short, why I could not “enjoy the mealtime,” even if I couldn’t find a way to enjoy the meal. [1]

If I were a needy person, a person for whom a dinner with friends was really just an opportunity for self-enhancement, there are several paths I could take. I could say of the mediocre T-bone steak that it isn’t bad, but you should see the way they prepare steak like this in Texas. “I remember a time when Maudie and I were there in ’57 at the ranch of a friend of ours…” I could say of the broccoli that it wasn’t bad, but when we were in Berne, we were served broccoli that was fresher than this and with the most marvelous béarnaise sauce. And I could say of the mashed potatoes that they weren’t all that bad, but in Dublin, where I grew up [2], they used to whip sour cream and just a touch of horseradish into the potatoes. Now that’s the way to do potatoes.  The broccoli with béarnaise sauce looks pretty good, I’ll have to say.

It makes you glad there weren’t more courses, doesn’t it? This person is not attending tomeal 1 the meal at all, so very probably he is not enjoying it. Each kind of food is an occasion for recounting where else he has eaten this kind of food and how much better it was then than now. It is a self-aggrandizing performance and while it doesn’t, strictly speaking, preclude his enjoying the food, it is hard to think that he does.

Note to my blogging self: One of the perfectly valid versions of attending to and enjoying the meal is to savor what is best in each kind of food and to say nothing about it to anyone. That means that I, sitting at the same table, wouldn’t know anything about that experience at all, which is why I am skipping over it with just the briefest mention. That person’s experience, as good as it is, is not available to me so I don’t see why he bothers having it at all.

Another kind of neediness can be seen in “justifying the food.” It seems just a little odd to think that the food might need to be justified, but let me tell you what I mean. It might be that the broccoli is so good because they used to prepare it differently, back in the bad old days, and then I went in and had a conversation with the executive chef and since then, he has been preparing it the way I asked for it to be prepared and isn’t it wonderful? Or, more briefly, “Am I not wonderful?”

And then there is that way of receiving the meal that fits under the “justification” heading too, and is characterized by explaining why a particular course is not good. They have had such trouble with the firm that is currently providing our produce. The available space in the kitchen is so small that they can’t prepare everything at once. The influx of new help in the kitchen means that they aren’t going to get everything right immediately, but this—the food as it is tonight—is just a temporary inconvenience.

This last person may be a very nice person and she is extremely knowledgeable. But if each food item is a tool for amplifying her own role the successes or, in this case, for justifying the food by describing the kitchen or the cooks or the suppliers, then it is likely that her attention, also, is not on the food. [3]

It wouldn’t do, I suppose for the server to leave the table with “Enjoy whatever is best in this mealtime setting.” And I’m not recommending it. But I might just think it to myself as a reminder that there is going to be something that deserves my full attention and I want to be open to enjoying it. This opportunity is going to be at that table at that time and I hope I have the discipline to seek it and enjoy it fully. [4]

[1] A more challenging case would be if one item was really superb amid the basket of deplorable items. To be free to recognize that it was good and to really experience how good it was, would be an achievement to be proud of.

[2] It may have been Dublin, Ohio, but we won’t be seeing these particular people again.
[3] The food, in this scenario, is the victim. It has been badly supplied or badly prepared or badly served, but it is not to blame.

[4] I could do it without all that discipline, I suppose, but when I do it on purpose, I like it better.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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2 Responses to Enjoy your meal

  1. Daniel Hess says:

    I love the idea of framing the meal as “enjoy your yellow” because it is just part of the moment you are experiencing. Perfect. I spend so much time thinking about the calibre of the food I’m eating and probably just made that I sometimes forget that the food isn’t the only thing happening at that table. Love it. Thanks dad.

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