One night at a chain restaurant


Let me start out with a paraphrase of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (ask the hippie in your family if the allusion is obscure):”Love will get you through times of no food better than food will get you through times of no love.”

Is the best food you ever have eaten from the hand of a French-trained classic chef? How sad for you if that is true. In the lives of lucky people, the best food came from the untrained hand of the person you loved the most. Food is a basic universal ritual of love. And I have a suspicion that if you start overcriticizing it, you might have a mild case of affection starvation.

I could easily reflect on my meal at a national chain restaurant where I gathered with some foodies. But I’m certain any of them can do that job more capably than I. I told them I knew the restaurant from many good times I had with people who mattered to me. That I come back to it with the knowledge that it makes a number of things I like.

But as we sat around and tried to wrestle with the notion that reaction to chain restaurants might be a battleground where issues of class and status are fought out, I came to realize something that I’ve sort of known for a while. Long before most modern forms of entertainment, table talk is something from the earliest origins of the species. In fact, eating and talking are integral to the development of our species in ways that permitted it to survive the severest climatic crises and spread in more niches than any other. It not only achieves a purpose of mental development, it helps us to learn to enjoy those with whom we are closest. No wonder my father lectured us when I was very young that it was rude to silently sit at the table and “just eat”. His father was a Norwegian farmer, and I would guess his mother and father gave him the same message from early childhood.

Our table talk was remarkable in that most people discussing the shared issue at the restaurant were forced to dip into the well where the meaning of food in their lives was stored. And biting and chewing became almost automatic as that happened. The self-revelation was just compelling. By the time we were paying our bills and leaving, I felt we had completed some sort of common journey.

So that is why where you eat and even what you eat can often be secondary. In fact, one might even say that food criticism is most properly a solitary labor. Never eat with anyone who makes you want to critique the food above all.