Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rules for eating

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway recently wrote a piece on how she has stopped snacking at her desk at work, and is now an enthusiastic convert to restaurant reviewer A.A. Gill's rules of eating which run as follows:


1. Don't eat anything which can't be eaten with a knife and fork.

2. Eat at a table with a set place, preferably facing someone else who is also eating.

3. Never eat because you are hungry: always eat because it is lunchtime.

4. Never eat standing up.

5. Never eat anything with, or off, plastic or cardboard.

6. Never eat with a screen in the same room.

7. All meals must have at least two courses, except breakfast.


I don't know about all the specifics of these rules, but some such rules are definitely desirable. Like the rule once drummed into schoolchildren about not eating while walking in the street.

Of course, the focus shouldn't be on negative rules so much as on the social and psychological dimensions of eating (and not eating). On the ritual of food and drink.

As Kellaway points out, "food itself is curiously forgettable; what is not forgettable is the anticipation and the ritual."

Making tea is a paradigm case, and early last year I went back to making and drinking proper tea made in a pot. For me, tea bags were just a temporary (albeit decades long!) aberration.

As is generally the case with issues relating to manners and customs, all this is less trivial than it seems and is ultimately more about deep values than arbitrary preferences.

For rituals of eating and drinking not only contribute to defining our social and cultural environment but also, when they are functioning well, help to give us a sense of security, satisfaction and self-mastery.

Eating when you're hungry is just a little bit limp and boring, don't you think? Just a little bit ho-hum.