Do you eat fast or slow?
I eat slow. I'm not boasting. I'm not trying to say that taking time with a meal is more genteel. I don't like it, in fact, if my food cools off when I'm only half finished with it.
But I can't eat fast. Especially when it's a special meal, fraught with formality, expense, expectations. Too much tension, and I tense up.
Last holiday season I ran into trouble, twice, while trying to eat fast. Both times I got a chunk of meat lodged halfway down my esophagus that took a couple of minutes to get completely swallowed. Both times, the meal was important. And both times I was in the company of fast eaters, so I was trying to keep up.
I don't try to keep up anymore, for obvious health reasons.
But I wonder why I ever tried to keep up at all. I like eating slowly. I like chewing each bite (and I mean bitesized bite, not one of those huge folded planks of protein fast eaters cram into their mouths; ooh, sorry — value judgment). Yet I've always felt pressure from the fast eaters at my table, as if my slow meal were going to interfere with, I don't know, their pleasure? As if I would be delaying dessert?
Well, last night I threw down the figurative gauntlet, while still managing to daintily clutch my literal steak knife and fork.
Cranky was tearing through his meal. I know he was mainlining comfort; he's been under some stress, and going out for a steak dinner was therapeutic. But, mygaw, he was robotically sawing and stuffing, sawing and stuffing. Couldn't have been much fun. I caught myself fretting because I couldn't eat fast enough, and then I stopped.
"I'm not going to eat as fast as you," I said. I didn't ask him to slow down; I didn't criticize his manners or give him the canned speech on the pleasure of a leisurely meal. I just announced my own plan.
He slowed down. Cranky is a polite boy, and he realized he was nervously wolfing. He snapped out of his foodbot stupor and timed the rest of his meal to keep pace with me.
A fantastic thing happened. I finished my meal (well, not all, but as much as I wanted to eat), and I felt comfortable. Comfortable enough to order a selection of cheeses to nibble on, which rarely happens for me at a restaurant. Usually I'm too rattled and queasy.
And it wasn't until I typed those words just now, "rattled and queasy," that I realized why I hate eating fast so much.