I recently described witnessing the summer ritual lobster slaughter in my dad’s restaurant. Another difficult aspect of restaurant life was dealing with customers. Noting my struggle, my dad explained that cranky customers were to be expected. Serving people their food is personal, he’d say, and people need things to be a certain way because food, and eating it with one’s family, is fundamental. “People get touchy,” he said.
And it’s true–what’s more personal, more intimate, than what we put in our mouths? And, these days, what’s more easily maddening? My friend Brook recently commented:
“Really, a day is not complete without my having experienced something close to complete outrage about food, in some way or another. Something so seemingly simple.”
It’s both seemingly simple and completely basic to being human. We have to put food in our mouths every day. It fuels everything we do. Our mouths are built to get pleasure from it, our digestive systems are built to draw nourishment from it. Pleasure, payoff. (Evolution got this right, of course. Same with sex, though I guess in that case the payoff is regeneration of the species. But I digress.)
I used to teach in a K-8 school, and I remember thinking that as a job, teaching was broad-reaching and relevant; the classroom was a microcosm of society. Education was about brain science, psychology, race, gender, socioeconomics, group process. On a school level, it was about politics, economics, even city planning.
Food is everything, too. It’s family and social culture, public statement and private comfort, economics and politics, botany and biology, industry and folk wisdom, and, as we now know, not just pleasure but pain.