The Smorgasbord

How do you approach a huge table laden with lip-smacking food? The fact is, we have only one stomach. And the restaurant serves its meal for just the hours of 11 a.m. to three p.m., so you have to be focused. I’m guessing you have your system. If I get around to it, I’ll tell you mine. But first, here’s what I’ve noticed people will do.

Some people sample a bit of everything. They want to try things they’ve never had before, as well as things they know pretty well and have even sometimes cooked at home. They heap their plate and go back to their table with a smattering of tidbits from every section of the buffet. They never get to know any one kind of food really well, but they have a delicious variety of experiences, each one pleasurable in its own, brief way.

Some people take the opposite approach. They decide to focus on one kind of food, and they really enjoy it. If it’s the roast beef, they have some of the well-done outer part, they have some that’s runny with blood from the middle, they have some smothered in gravy and they have some seasoned with horse-radish. They eat it with mashed potatoes or with beans, they grind on a little pepper or they shake on some salt, or they eat it just as it comes, from the platter. They chew the fat or they nibble the gristle. They really come away with a full understanding of roast beef. They’re experts in roast beef by the end of the meal.

Some people skip the entrees and go straight to the dessert table. They only want what they never have at home, the rich chocolate, the whipped cream, the fancy oozing yummy part of the meal.

Some folks can’t decide what to do. They walk around the banquet and don’t know where to start. In the extreme cases, they hover from one part to the other, watching others enjoy themselves but never really tasting or trying anything. It’s as if the plenitude of choices overwhelms their ability to make a choice or to begin somewhere. Then the restaurant closes and they are asked to leave, even though they have not eaten anything. It’s sad, really–but no one’s to blame but themselves.

I’ve seen others who come with a friend or loved one, and sit down, and let their friend choose their meal for them. Are they lazy? Incurious? No doubt they enjoy the food they’re served, but why not take a chance? Why relinquish all control like that? It’s strange. Maybe they like the fact that if they have a “bad” meal, they can blame the other person.

There’s another way to approach the burden of choice a smorgasbord presents. Just stay home. Eat the leftover noodles from the fridge. Put some tomato sauce on it for something special. Stay away from the rich variety of food that others are enjoying. Keep it simple, stupid. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. It’s sad, really.

Here’s what I do, and I’m not proud of it. I crave the in-depth knowledge of one kind of food that I described in the first example. I load up on roast beef and all its permutations, and I bring it back to the table. I dig in. But after a few bites, I get curious about what I see my neighbour eating. That lobster looks really delicious! So I leave my plate of roast beef and I go back for lobster. When I come back to my spot, I push my barely-tasted plate of roast beef to one side and get cracking on the crustacean. But you know what? It’s not long before I notice someone else digging in to a falafel sandwich, or another person with a plate of cold salmon, or someone with a really good-looking Greek salad. And I leave aside my lobster and go for one of those other choices. The meal ends with my place surrounded by half-finished entrees, as if I’m going to set up my own little restaurant there at my table. There’s just not enough time to do justice to each kind of food. I end my meal without finishing anything, and a lot gets wasted. It’s not very sustainable, obviously–but worse, I miss both the satisfaction of doing one kind of thing really well, and that which comes from doing a variety of different things at an “amateur” level.

I need to work on this.

The smorgasbord is life, of course. You are what you eat, as they say.

What are you?

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