Chestnut Street Inn

Disrespecting Food-A Great American Tragedy

This weekend we hosted a four course wine dinner that lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours from beginning to end. And over the course of the last couple of months I have been reading anything and everything about Julia Child I could get my hands on. What do those have in common? Well, what I realized is that the very thing that Julia Child loved so much about french cuisine and the one thing we strive to accomplish here at the inn is the one thing that is grossly lacking in general in our American food culture and that is respect for food.

Let me clarify. At the risk of sounding anti-patriotic, I feel that most of us in the U.S. eat because we have to. We gorge ourselves in massive quantities of processed and homogenized foods that are convenient so quickly that we rarely pay any attention not only to what is going in, but what it tastes like and where we ate it. Long gone is the concept of eating socially. We don’t go to a restaurant or cook a family meal with the intent of spending a few hours enjoying food, wine and the company of good friends. And heck, most restaurants don’t exactly lend themselves to this end. They are noisy and half the time you feel as though they are trying to rush you out the door so that they can turn their table and make a profit.

I understand that, but I also have lived in France and grew up in a Hungarian family where eating was an event. We always had family and friends over on the weekends and prepared huge meals that we enjoyed together, talking, laughing and getting reacquainted with one another. They are some of the most cherished times of my life. So often now, though, we are so wrapped up in our ipods and iphones, texting and searching the web and emailing, we hardly even notice one another, much less sit down to dinner together and spend some time actually enjoying one another and the food we are eating. And this to me is disrespectful to food and disrespectful to the fundamental nature of being social creatures.

So it was refreshing to see 50 people, over the course of the weekend, spend a few hours actually setting their electronic devices aside and choosing to enjoy a meal. One of the first things we decided when we got into the country inn business was that we would only offer one seating per night. We never wanted to rush people out the door. We wanted them to savor their meal and the company they were with, the way we do when we go out or have friends over and the way people in other countries tend to do. And it is always rewarding to see that come to fruition. I just wish more people actually took part in this.

Perhaps if we reevaluated our eating habits and regained our respect for food and the institution of dining we would actually reduce the obesity problem in this country. I guarantee that those who spend time eating and paying attention to the food going into their mouths eat better and generally eat less. It is a known fact that the mind doesn’t register fullness for 15 minutes. However, by the time 15 minutes have passed, most of us have already consumed the big mac, the large fries and the milkshake, twice. By slowly consuming your food, chatting and savoring, one actually had a better chance of realizing that in fact they have eaten enough and are satiated.

But most of all, for me it is simply a matter of relationships and tradition. I think we could all benefit from a little interaction and communication and what better way to do so than over a wonderful meal, carefully prepared with love. I say the resolution we should all make for this decade is to be more respectful of food, dining and our sociality. Lets stop eating for the sake of consumption and start dining for the sake of becoming more interconnected, not just with one another, but with what we put into our bodies.

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