a Peculiar Intimacy
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
I'm a bit strange when it comes to eating in front of other people. I don't think my food phobias make me any kind of special, as I'm sure there are many who feel and act the same way; but it is something about myself, that I don't know that I've ever been able to fully explain. I just don't particularly like the idea of someone I don't know very well, being able to see me while I'm eating, because what I'm eating is destined to be turned into something entirely different inside my body; and when it re-emerges into the world, I'll have destroyed and altered it almost completely. And it smells.
...In the World According to This Guy, food (more precisely the act of mastication and all that that entails, from semen or seedling to your plate and your body), is extremely intimate. So much so, that I might be more prone to try and sleep with you than to feel comfortable eating with you;--and I'm married; so consider that.
I've often pointed to certain elements of the different rituals as being one or another specific source of disdain. Without using a fork and knife, which is something most Americans simply do not do, it is obviously impossible to eat a sandwich without taking a bite of it. It is equally impossible to do so, without leaving an impression of your mouth. That's your spit and bacteria and fresh- or foul-tasting breath on that half-moon impression. You literally looked like you were just sucking on that little bit of bread now squished and dangling while you squelch and squabble, and heaven forbid you should open your mouth to speak without at least attempting to hide your saliva-soaked wad of once-organic matter.
Everyone squelches and squabbles, it's just part of the business. That's why generally I insist on background noise when it comes time for eating--whether television, radio, or the din of a busy restaurant: I am not at all a fan of the sound of chewing or swallowing. I didn't think I was signing up for a spotlight concert showcasing the organic machinations of our natural energy conversion process, and I'm not at all eager to attend.
You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure.
That wet, sucking-squishing sound that pasta makes. That chocolate frosting smeared on the tines of your companion's fork because no one ever taught them to keep it clean. The food bits left clinging to your companion's teeth and lips as they open their maw in preparation to take another bite; and other such soundbites of that nature.
But the swallowing, too? I cannot help but consider that I've seen chewed-up food before and I believe it's one of the most disgusting sights in the world; that that is what's going down your throat right now, to join the cacophony of other chewed-up matter stewing and brewing in your gut and intestines (the taste of which might be had if you happen to be in any way gaseous), which are going to turn it into something entirely different and which you will eventually evacuate from your body, usually in the privacy of your own bathroom.
As long as there's background noise, all that can be pretty easily ignored. And as long as you've got even halfway decent table manners, you're not going to be a complete jackass and smack your lips or speak when your mouth is full. You can't avoid the bite-marks in the sandwich, but you might politely turn it the other way when you set it down so your companion can't really see it (though to be frank I also find it rude to look at others' food while they're eating so I tend to avert my gaze insofar as possible; which may just be me, but if I do look at your plate--or even if I look at you, just as a matter of course--then I open myself up to seeing that bit of gristle you chewed up and decided to spit out and leave on your plate; or I might see you slip and accidentally catch a front-row seat to some kind of sick Snapchat view of your inner workings).
Meanwhile, I am exposed to you, and I know that I'm partaking in the same rituals, going through the same motions and processes. I am extremely aware of my own self in this equation, and to be honest I don't know that I meet my own standards when it comes to this kind of stuff. Not one hundred per cent of the time, that's for sure. I don't want to gross you out, just as much as I hope I can avoid being grossed out by you while we go through this: Because if we are going to be sitting and eating together, I'm going to try not to be rude by ignoring you completely, staring at anything and everything but. We're going to talk, we're going to laugh, maybe we'll argue or maybe we will stay quiet because that can be nice, too.
Most of which certainly opens everyone up to an increased possibility of exposure and which I have taught myself to try and avoid in as surreptitious a manner possible (meaning simply that I'm secretly timing and calculating the length and direction of my gaze throughout the length of the ritual), while simultaneously banking on the high probability that probably none of the people I know and with whom I might be eating, view any of this, quite the way that I do. Thus if I do expose myself, probably no one's going to be as grossed out as I'm thinking. Indeed not even I am as put off by it, in the moment, as I might be making it sound. Still might be more likely to try and sleep with you (which will never happen), but I've gotten a lot better about it, that's for sure.
...But think about it, if you will: Your morning glory, smelly and satisfying as it usually is. As a result of sharing a meal with you, I am a part of that. I was there when the finally-prepared dish hit the table and I was there with you when you ate it. There at the beginning, thinking of you as you are now and hoping you never even thought to think of me in the same way (to be clear I never pictured you specifically, I just happened to envision the scenario). Now that you have considered it, how many shits do you think you've shared in today?