Sharing food is extremely stressful. I was out to dinner the other night with a friend at a new tapas place and when the waiter approached and asked, “Will you be sharing a bunch of small dishes?” I responded without hesitation: NO.
My friend looked baffled. “Oh, I forgot,” she said, “You’re a vegetarian.” I nodded thinking that would get me off the hook. It didn't. She then said, "That's okay, I don't mind" which meant I had to tell her it’s not that I don’t eat chicken, it’s that I don’t like to share. Suddenly, she seemed so disappointed. All of the fun drained from her face.
I could tell she had been looking forward to sharing all sorts of tasty dishes and now she’d just have one boring old entrée. But I was unrepentant. When I go out to dinner I like to go at my own pace. Which generally, is slower than everyone else’s because I’m talking.
There’s always a price to pay for “shall we share?” First, you have to agree on what to order. If it’s Chinese food, people assume you want to try a dozen different dishes. Why? Why can’t eating Chinese food be just like eating any other food? You don’t sit down at a coffee shop and feel compelled to order 18 things from the menu. You get a sandwich. It’s enough.
But if you’re in a group, deciding what everyone will get is part of the enjoyment. Not for me. Someone will ask, “Shall we split a beetroot salad?” and I’ll be the one that says, “No, let’s all get our own thing.” The awkward silence that follows is something I’ve learned to embrace.
Is it a surprise I don’t get asked out to dinner any more?
But even with just one other person it’s a situation. What stresses me out most is the varying speed at which people eat. I can never keep up. I have to inhale the food or I’ll lose my share.
Sometimes, what I’ll do is, I’ll ask for an extra plate. Then I’ll pretend to be considerate by dividing up the portions therefore insuring I have my share and can eat at my own pace.
The only snag is that sometimes the food is difficult to divide. One time, I attempted to mark a demarcation line in a butternut squash puree.
“That’s your half” I announced. I’m not sure that came off as a generous gesture.
My friend Laura, likes sharing food, but only if it’s fattening.
“I don't want all the responsibility for a plate of fries or a sundae.” She says. But I don’t think that counts. She’s using it as a strategy, more than a pleasure.
She’s been known on occasion to share a main dish but admits she prefers when they divide it up in advance on two plates.
My other friend Katie says she is always willing to share food when eating out because she gets to taste more than one thing on the menu.
In theory I can see why this is logical but in practice, it never works out.
There’s always one plate of food passed around that everyone seizes more than others and by the time it gets to you it’s just a wilted spinach leaf dripping in sauce. Whenever that’s happened to me, it’s always the dish I chose. “What was this?” I’ll ask, referring to the empty plate.
The response: “I think that was the salad you ordered. Good choice!”
As for sharing food that needs to be eaten with fingers? No thank you. My close friends know the routine. If we’re sharing something like edamame or chips, they have to wash their hands first.
But by far the most stressful food-share is dessert. When I share a dessert with someone, I eat way more than I want to because I know that I don’t have the time or space to be polite about it, plus, it’s likely to melt. There’s the spoon fight over who gets more whipped cream, and latent aggression comes over the chocolate sauce – within seconds, it’s all over with. How is that a pleasant way to end a meal?
The one food I don’t mind sharing is sushi – but only the rolls. That’s because it’s already divided up in equal portions and easy to split. Even then I’ve been with people who eat more than their six pieces. They dip into my portion and say, innocently, “I can’t remember, is this mine or yours?” I have no problem saying, “Mine.”
Unless I’m not hungry. Or the sushi is bad.