The hand that feeds: Food, love and our memories of everything but the meal

Did I mention before that I’m a waitress? Oh, and that since I was 15 I have worked in 12 different establishments, all but two being a restaurant (well, I don’t know that we’d necessarily call McDonalds a restaurant, but you get what I mean). Outside of the primal awareness I have for food as sustenance, I see it constantly as a social function: a way to say thank you, congratulations, marry me.

I’m reading a book by fellow “food” blogger, Steve Dublanica, otherwise known as The Waiter. He mentioned something that made me stop, think, and agree with; something that I’m sure I’ve vaguely thought of before, but never vocalized or made clear in my head as a complete thought:

“I look back at the young couple’s table. They’re still holding hands. The girl’s stopped crying. Two people sharing an ordinary moment in an ordinary restaurant. Sometimes everyday little moments become chances for people to start over. That young couple is having such a moment. A light’s shining in the girl’s eyes. Maybe she’s gonna have that baby after all. Generational redemption’s happening inside a busy restaurant, and I’m the only one seeing it.”

Let me take a quick moment to say that I currently waitress at a hotel here in Vermont, and we do a lot of weddings.

One day I had a bride and groom the morning after their wedding. Expecting marital, honeymoon bliss, I approached them with a gleaming smile, and cheerful greeting — at 8am, after already working two hours at that point, I assure you this is not an easy task — and I quickly realized that either the newly-wed fog had already come and gone, or there wasn’t any to begin with.

Every time I approached the table the two were in the middle of an argument under hushed voices. Their eyes screamed lack of sleep, and their body language announced that honeymoon hadn’t set in quite yet. It felt strange to be a witness to this, almost an invasion of privacy. Though I wasn’t the only one in the restaurant who could see the couple, I was probably the only one who knew they had tied the knot the night before. Their fighting was probably shrugged off by the average table neighbor or lone diner who might be keeping entertained at their expense.

This seems to me what Dublanica is talking about in this particular spot and it made me think about the ways I’m connected to food outside the kitchen. I may not be able to cook well, but I always think of food as a celebratory vehicle. Whether we can cook or not, we are connected to everything we eat merely because of who we are eating with, where we’re doing it, why, and every other circumstance that brought us to that meal.

The couple mentioned in the excerpt above might always remember the one night they ate at that restaurant as the night they decided to have a baby. Everytime they walk by they’ll recall every detail, yet the memory may not even conjure up thoughts of the actual meal itself. So, perhaps food truly does serve as a vehicle for other situations, and the biological need for sustenance remains simply that; a way to ensure we’ll be around for the next meal.

Think about dinner growing up. If you are like me, you grew up eating dinner every night around the kitchen table with your family. As a sullen teenager, you would rather not leave your room for anything, especially not to talk about your day with mom and dad. An easy way for parents to stay connected with an otherwise non-communicating teenager — family dinner.

As with all my posts, this may be an incomplete thought to perhaps be rehashed some other time. But the idea of me being connected with food in so many other ways than the one that I’m relatively terrible at makes me return to my previous rambling about feeding those we love and the importance that my mom has always — probably unintentionally — shown me by putting dinner in front of me every night for 18 years.

Even while I’m on the clock I’m tied to the food I’m serving through my customers. I may never remember the meal of a stubborn, cranky table, but I remember their negativity. And after work, when I cook dinner for Ben, it is absolutely a labor of adoration, appreciation and in anticipation of time with him after a long workday.

Whether receiving or giving the food, your connection often remains tied to the place, time, event, whatever. Food served by a lover is romantic, regardless of the meal. And the memory of diving into dinner after good news has been announced will almost always be filed away as simply that.

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