Thursday, 13 March 2014

The social context of eating

There are two reasons for eating. The first, and obvious one, is because without nutrition we die. When we are hungry we just want food. When we are very hungry, we don't care much what it is we eat. However, most of us give more weight to the second reason for eating - the social context.

On a business trip to the USA many years ago I sat in a seafood restaurant in Boston that had won the best restaurant award five years in a row. Apart from the 40 minute wait for a table (and this with priority seating), the blackened catfish was amazing, the service was impeccable, and the atmosphere was a buzz with 200 people talking, laughing and obviously enjoying themselves. Well, actually, it was 199 people. 

I was sitting alone. 

It is the loneliest meal I have ever eaten in my life. Never had a more glaring example of the social context of eating ever presented itself to me. I remember what I ate because the food was simply superb but the over-riding memory of that evening is one of acute loneliness.

All this is to tell you what you already know; eating with family or friends is much more enjoyable than sitting alone. It is common in Greek cafes to provide long table seating which throws strangers together while they eat and drink. I was initially hesitant to sit down in these establishments but quickly overcame my reticence. I sat at a table with complete strangers, and they all nodded their acknowledgement of my presence and then promptly continued with their own conversations.

This means you no longer need to eat alone. You can now enjoy eating in a wider social setting, and you may even meet new friends. One such fine example is Artisans on Russell Street.

With exuberant reviews on Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor and Facebook the place has a relaxed feel and the food is a surprise. First impressions of the kitchen is that the usual, ordinary fare will be produced. But the professional acumen of the kitchen staff is fully revealed when the food arrives. Well-thought through combinations in the sandwiches and complex flavours in the soups make for an enthusiastic clientèle who keep returning.

I have mentioned before of a mate who regularly comes to Toowoomba. When his business meeting is over, we find a spot to catch up over a coffee and some lunch. Only a few short years ago, the list of places to choose from was short and not particularly exciting. Now, we are spoilt with choice.

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