I’m willing to bet that if you read this blog — if you read any ‘food’ blog, really — that you’ve probably put food before people at times during your life. I won’t go so far to label anyone who reads this blog as “disordered” in the way they view their interest in food or cooking in the context of the wider world, but there are times when we’re all called to reexamine our values in life, and reorder those values accordingly.
I’ve been doing a lot of that lately — reexamining my values, that is. My own struggles with where I place material things and temporal feelings amidst the backdrop of my everyday life has left me unfulfilled, to the point where every time I open a cereal box or pace the aisles of a grocery store in search of a new snack, I’m forced to question what I’m really getting out of the experience.
More often than not, its isolation. No matter the physical sensations of sweet or salty that I taste, or the short-lived euphoria of nostalgia exercised, I just can’t deny that the experience of buying, eating, and especially reviewing food done exclusively for myself and on my own.
That’s not a formula for happiness when it becomes a daily part of your life. We humans are a naturally social animal, and from my own experience I know that I’m happiest when I’m in the company of others. It’s the way I feel God’s goodness in the world, and the way in which my own problems seems to fall away. The strange thing is that I don’t cultivate or chase after that idea of happiness, even though I know its a proven formula. I, like a lot of stubborn people, make things difficult for myself, and follow things that the world tells us will make us happy. You know the story by now; heck, maybe you even live it, too. Commuting more than 100 miles round-trip a day, staring at a computer screen while killing time at work, rushing through the same old, monotonous yet tiring exercises at the gym. All for what? A reward at the end of the day to assert some expertise on something on a little read blog? To indulge in a pint of ice cream with sore eyes before going to bed, only to get up the next day and do it all again? To build up a wealth that you never even use except on the same things which turn the wheels of isolation?
A few weeks ago I went to a different church than I usually do. Just by chance I took a bulletin and noticed an advertisement for ‘young adult’ dinners. At first I didn’t give it much thought. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I just don’t do “young adult” things through my — or any other — church. They tend to be awkward occasions for socially awkward people to get together and talk about, well, anything but just random ‘stuff,’ and in the context of wanting to take some time to just hang out with people who share the same values in a relaxed setting, the gatherings tend to be anything but. Plus, we Catholics like to drink. And after two years of living with Mormons, I’ve lost any taste for alcohol that I never even had to begin with.
I was about to throw that bulletin and that idea of a young adult dinner into the trash when I got home, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wouldn’t kill me to at least try going. I live the same lonely, schedule-oriented life everyday anyways, and one night out of my comfort zone wouldn’t kill me.
Worst case? I go, it’s awkward, the food sucks, and I get up the next morning to go back to everyday life. I miss a football game I would have gone to bed at halftime while watching, and I lose an hour of sleep. Best case? I actually make a friend and enjoy myself. Really best case? A Honey Peanut Butter ice cream recipe I made (courtesy of Seriouse Eats) is a hit, I catch some Thursday night NFL action with a bunch of people more or less like me, and I completely forget about the anxiety I create for myself in my isolating world of work, food, and routine. I’ll chance a night of awkwardness for that any day, much less a Thursday.
Long story short, it was the best case scenario. In fact, “best case” is exactly what I texted a friend of mine after I left the apartment where the dinner was. There was nothing special about it in terms of food. Oh sure, my ice cream was a hit , but the straight-from-the soup-kitchen tuna casserole and the frozen Mrs. T ‘s pieorgies were hardly foodie-friendly. But eaten after an “Our Father” and with a mixed group of young adults just kicking back and watching some football after another day in the it-came-to-fast real world, well, those pieorgis tasted like a million bucks — albeit, with a buttload of salt.
It just goes to show you that food — and dining — is so much more about taste, consumerism, and writing. It’s about living, sharing, and being thankful for the things that bring us meaning. Reminded of that, I think I’ll be taking some more time to eat frozen peirgies with others, and a lot less of eating, and blogging by myself.