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Crazy American Eating Habits

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Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:42 am

No, I'm not talking about all the crazy crap we eat. Rather, I'm interested in the nonsensical ways in which we eat all that crap. Here are my three biggest pet peeves:

1. Don't eat until everyone has their food.
This makes sense as simple courtesy if the family is gathered around the kitchen table and you're just waiting til all the bowls have been passed, but it makes no sense at all at large parties (especially if a buffet is involved) and is particularly annoying at restaurants. Food, I think everyone will agree, is generally best when it's fresh. This is especially true at restaurants. In Europe, it is common for dishes to be brought out to tables as they are prepared (as opposed to all at once) and it would be foolish to sit and wait until everyone else's food arrives (not to mention insulting to the chef, who just prepared you a fresh meal.) Why is it considered rude to enjoy your food in its freshest state?
2. Clean your plate!
I am convinced (without a shred of evidence, mind you) that part of America's obesity problem can be traced back to this nonsensical rule. True, wasting food is bad (and perhaps even morally wrong, as parents who play the "starving African child" card would have us believe) but so is "keep eating even though you're stuffed." Yes, you shouldn't take what is obviously more than you can eat, but often your portions were determined for you in advance. Nobody cooks half a steak or only half a potato. This is especially true at restaurants where oversized portions are often a selling point. In some Asian cultures, it is considered rude to clean your plate. Why? Because it implies the chef didn't prepare enough food! I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but I would suggest that when you're full, you should put the knife and fork down. Which brings me to...
3. Zig-zagging utensils
I admit, I do this too, but that's because I was raised that way and now it's just habit. But why the heck do Americans (and pretty much exclusively Americans) switch hands with their utensils while eating? Why do I have to put down the knife, switch the fork to my right hand, and only then bring it to my mouth? How did this etiquette arise and why has it persisted despite the inefficiency? As a lifelong klutz, I can guarantee I would have knocked over far fewer glasses, bowls, and plates had this rule never existed.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby christopher_robin » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:50 am

Gene Futterman addressed point #1 with Futterman's Rule: "When two are served, you may eat."

"The elegance of Futterman's Rule does lend it a hint of spirituality. One eats one's food while it is hot, observing dinner as a natural continuum (instead of the top-down, 'no-one-eats-until-the-chef-is-ready' hierarchical model that dominates most households). At the same time, no one eats alone (it is only once two people are served, and a social base is established for those with food, that one may begin to eat)."

http://www.grantgibson.co.uk/misc/my-fi ... sindex.htm
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby kurt_w » Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:20 am

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:3. Zig-zagging utensils
I admit, I do this too, but that's because I was raised that way and now it's just habit. But why the heck do Americans (and pretty much exclusively Americans) switch hands with their utensils while eating? Why do I have to put down the knife, switch the fork to my right hand, and only then bring it to my mouth?


I have seen so many, many explanations for this. They all trace it back to the colonial period, but offer different reasons.

One thing that seems to be true is that the fork was a relatively newfangled innovation in the early 1600s anglo-saxon world, when the first English settlements in America were being founded. Prior to the 17th century, forks were used for carving meat, but not for eating with (in England, anyway). People ate with knives, spoons, and fingers.

But none of the explanations for why colonial Americans held their forks in their right hand, while Europeans held them in their left, really convinces me. They all seem too pat and convenient and artificial. My guess is that the newness of the fork, and the relative isolation of 1600s America, allowed the usage to diverge; then custom and tradition kept it that way.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby rabble » Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:32 am

Prof. Wagstaff wrote: In some Asian cultures, it is considered rude to clean your plate. Why? Because it implies the chef didn't prepare enough food!

After learning how to use chopsticks, I came across another reason. If chopsticks are all you got, cleaning the plate involves picking it up and shoving it into your face. Which is probably bad table manners in any culture.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Oct 15, 2012 12:14 pm

christopher_robin wrote:Gene Futterman addressed point #1 with Futterman's Rule: "When two are served, you may eat."
I like this very much.

kurt_w wrote:But none of the explanations for why colonial Americans held their forks in their right hand, while Europeans held them in their left, really convinces me.
I am in the same boat, as I've heard several. And while I appreciate Miss Manner's point that speed is not necessarily something to aspire to when eating, I'm a naturally slow eater, so my concern is still with the whole I'm-a-klutz thing. Minimizing movements and how many times I drop and pick up utensils also minimizes potential messes, and I hope even Miss Manners would agree that knocking over your wine or sending a hunk of mashed potatoes flying into your neighbor's lap when you set down your knife clumsily are more egregious breaches of etiquette than being the first one done eating.

And there might be a #4 in here somewhere. Not sure if this is an American thing or not, but holy bejeebus do most people seem to snarf down their food fast. I am almost always the last person done eating in any given setting, and it's not because I'm going back for thirds. I've always been a slow eater; "dinnertime" in my childhood household was 6:00 til 6:10, 6:15 on Fridays when Mom made dessert. That's how it was for my parents and brother, anyway. It was not unusual for me to still be sitting at the table eating at 6:20 while Mom loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up around me. I really like eating. Why's everybody in such a hurry to finish?

rabble wrote:
Prof. Wagstaff wrote: In some Asian cultures, it is considered rude to clean your plate. Why? Because it implies the chef didn't prepare enough food!

After learning how to use chopsticks, I came across another reason. If chopsticks are all you got, cleaning the plate involves picking it up and shoving it into your face.
I've certainly seen people do this and I've never been offended but then, I'm not exactly the easily offended type. But since you brought them up, I find chopsticks baffling. Mostly because despite many attempts over several decades, their use is still a skill I have yet to acquire. (And really, is there anything more sad and deflating than failing to learn something which hundreds of millions of small children have mastered.) But also because I'm curious why people still use them, given the existence of what I consider better-designed utensils. Does my failure to understand their use extend so far that I fail to see their usefulness? Do they actually work better than forks and spoons in any particular cases?
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby rabble » Mon Oct 15, 2012 12:23 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote: I find chopsticks baffling. Mostly because despite many attempts over several decades, their use is still a skill I have yet to acquire. (And really, is there anything more sad and deflating than failing to learn something which hundreds of millions of small children have mastered.) But also because I'm curious why people still use them, given the existence of what I consider better-designed utensils. Does my failure to understand their use extend so far that I fail to see their usefulness? Do they actually work better than forks and spoons in any particular cases?

One legend I heard said that Buddha said to use them because the standard utensils of the time, knives, were implements of violence. I don't know if that also applies to forks. I see Asians eating noodles with chopsticks plus a spoon all the time. Wikipedia says they're more "lacquerware friendly."

I use chopsticks just because I managed to learn to use them and like showing off.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Stebben84 » Mon Oct 15, 2012 12:50 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:christopher_robin wrote:
Gene Futterman addressed point #1 with Futterman's Rule: "When two are served, you may eat."
I like this very much.


I had learned this a while back from a friend. There had been this rule that you wait until all have been served, but then it was considered even more rude of them to let your food get cold. If I am with a group of people and I don't have my food yet, I make sure to let the others know that they can start eating and not wait for me. If I have my food I usually wait for one of the non-food getters to say it's alright to eat.

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:I am in the same boat, as I've heard several. And while I appreciate Miss Manner's point that speed is not necessarily something to aspire to when eating, I'm a naturally slow eater, so my concern is still with the whole I'm-a-klutz thing.


This same friend was telling me that you should keep the fork in the left hand and if you have food that needs to be "scooped" push it onto the BACK of the fork and don't scoop it like a shovel. He comes from a well to do family that's into all this miss manners bullshit.

On a side note, I can't stand when people put their fork in their hand like they're going to stab someone and cut their food that way.

Image

Just a pet peeve.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:54 pm

Stebben84 wrote:If I am with a group of people and I don't have my food yet, I make sure to let the others know that they can start eating and not wait for me.
I do this too. It's amazing to me how many people still choose to wait.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby christopher_robin » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:01 pm

If you are in a nice restaurant, all the food is supposed to hit the table at once, obviating the conundrum.

There are maybe three restaurants in Madison that understand how this is supposed to work. Instead it's all "WHO HAD THE FILET MIGNON? HOT FILET HERE, and it's COOLING OFF EVERY SECOND."
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:08 pm

christopher_robin wrote:If you are in a nice restaurant, all the food is supposed to hit the table at once, obviating the conundrum.
I'd prefer that each dish was brought to the table as fresh as possible and people felt free to eat them as they arrived. If everybody's dinner arrives at once, by necessity, at least some of those meals have been sitting around for a while.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby acereraser » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:08 pm

Stebben84 wrote:
Prof. Wagstaff wrote:I am in the same boat, as I've heard several. And while I appreciate Miss Manner's point that speed is not necessarily something to aspire to when eating, I'm a naturally slow eater, so my concern is still with the whole I'm-a-klutz thing.


This same friend was telling me that you should keep the fork in the left hand and if you have food that needs to be "scooped" push it onto the BACK of the fork and don't scoop it like a shovel. He comes from a well to do family that's into all this miss manners bullshit.


I visited my relatives in Sweden with my grandma when I was 10, which is apparently a fertile period for utensil behavior modeling, because I have kept my fork in my left hand since that trip. I guess I was still moderately clumsy with the back and forth transfer of the fork, while also eager to learn the differences between cultures, so it seemed cool and smarter to keep the fork left.

They also did (do? haven't seen them for a while, but I don't expect a change) the smear stuff on the back of the fork with the knife instead of scooping with the fork, but that didn't catch on with me. It is hard to get a satisfactory amount of mashed potatoes & gravy on the back of your fork, so I still shovel, but with my left hand.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby christopher_robin » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:12 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
christopher_robin wrote:If you are in a nice restaurant, all the food is supposed to hit the table at once, obviating the conundrum.
I'd prefer that each dish was brought to the table as fresh as possible and people felt free to eat them as they arrived. If everybody's dinner arrives at once, by necessity, at least some of those meals have been sitting around for a while.


It's a good point. Theoretically all the meals come up at the same time AND are then served simultaneously, but in a busy kitchen something almost always sits for a few seconds while the meal is assembled.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby rrnate » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:27 pm

I have more!

5) Crazy Meat Consumption - not beating the vegetarian drum (I've been one for over 10 years! It's great!) but just an observation that lots of people would be a lot more healthy if they didn't work under the fairly common assumption that it's only a meal if meat is involved. When I first went vegetarian, I did it kinda out of nowhere without reading about it or knowing how to cook, and when I woke up the first day (New Year's Day, 2002 - lots of restaurants not open) I had absolutely no idea what to eat. It never occurred to me back then that everything revolved around meat, but looking back, I see just how much I wolfed down over the years.

6) Cost Expectations - I spend a fair amount of time in a van with other guys I'm in a band with and they're pretty normal/run-of-the-mill guys and outside of my vegetarian problem, figuring out where to eat when we're out of town is tricky namely because of a deep-seated belief that a meal should cost $5 or less. People spend so much money on the stupidest shit and it haunts me that so many people spend so little of their money on eating well. (I'm not talking about ridiculous foodie-ism here - I'm talking about spending enough money to get something that isn't "30% meat product" or whatever.)

7) Ranch Dressing - WTF? Why are people eating this on everything now? Knock if off fatties!

8 ) Panini - why is this such a thing now? I do not want a sandwich to be greasy, as I'm eating it with my goddamn hands.

9) Restaurants vs. Halfway Decent Hot Sauce - why do so many good restaurants have essentially no good hot sauce on hand except for Tabasco and maybe Cholulah? I'm not talking about places where the delicate head chef is insulted if you want more pepper - places like Monties, Clevelands, etc. who have good solid food should have some halfway decent hot sauce on hand.

Also, Wagstaff, stop eating like a pussy.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:28 pm

Yeah, the scooping stuff onto the back of your fork thing confuses me too. Why curve the fork at all if that's what you're gonna do with it? I seem to remember that proper etiquette demands that the fork tines always remain pointed down. Not sure if I'm remembering that correctly. Perhaps when forks were still a relative novelty, people had more trouble not stabbing themselves with them.

christopher_robin wrote:Theoretically all the meals come up at the same time AND are then served simultaneously
That's certainly the goal, and you did say "nice restaurant", where they're more likely to accomplish it.

It's one of the things I like best about hibachi. Everything gets cooked before your eyes and immediately transferred to your plate. Random hibachi advice, especially if you're really hungry: Order only seafood. If you get lobster, shrimp, scallops, calamari, or any combination of those, you'll have received all your food before anyone's chicken or steak have even hit the grill.
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Re: Crazy American Eating Habits

Postby Detritus » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:31 pm

rabble wrote:One legend I heard said that Buddha said to use them because the standard utensils of the time, knives, were implements of violence. I don't know if that also applies to forks.

That's an unlikely legend, since the Buddha wasn't Chinese--he was Indian, and they eat with their hands. There are stories (probably apocryphal) that Confucius encouraged the practice of the cook cutting everything up into small pieces, arguing that gentlemen should savor each bite, appreciating the individual flavors of each ingredient.

It is interesting to see how table manners differ from place to place. Picking up food and eating with your hands is definitely rude in most situations in China, as is the whole idea of serving large hunks of cooked meat. In other words, American-style barbeque is something that makes Chinese visitors rather uncomfortable, at least at first. They also won't eat food that drops in their lap or on their clothes, unlike most Americans I know, who do that unconsciously. On the other hand, many Chinese dishes (real Chinese dishes, not Chinese-American ones) come with inedible stuff in them--stir-fried shrimp in the shell (heads & all), stewed ribs chopped small, various dried herbs that can't be eaten--and it's perfectly acceptable to take those things out of your mouth (with chopsticks) and pile them on the table. Or on the floor, if you're out in the countryside.

That took some getting used to.
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