Cooking with Mom: “Dining” vs. “Eating”

I am taking in my last day in Hawaii.  I know why I love it here. It is a sensuous place: the rolling rumble of ocean tide, the scent of salt and seaweed hanging in the air, soft sand between my toes, a breeze just a degree cooler than my skin, and the taste of great cuisine everywhere.

For a not-so-big island, Oahu has a terrific selection of restaurants – Asian fusion, Italian, French, Continental, American, Korean, Thai, Mexican, Japanese … the list goes on and on, each of these with options varying from $ to $$$$.

I’ve been coming to Oahu for many years. This is where I create my own liminal space. I offer myself great self-care – time to rest, reflect, walk, read and, of course, eat. I don’t know about you, but my everyday life is full to the brim with many tasks and long lists. I’m busy. Life is busy! So my time apart from that wild and wonderful life I live every day needs to be different in order to really nurture me.

When I am in Hawaii, because I am not hurried in any way at any time, all I engage in is done with intention. When I walk, I walk for the pleasure of feeling the earth beneath my feet, the wind on my face. When I read, I read slowly, take in every word, every concept. I slow everything down, including eating.

I am a great fan of what I call “dining” versus “eating” whether it is at home or in a restaurant. Let me explain the difference:

Eating Scenario:

We might be hungry; we might not. But we eat because it is time to eat. In a restaurant, we sit down, the waiter gives us menus, brings us water, asks us if we want cocktails. We say, maybe we’ll have wine with dinner. Waiter walks away, comes back in 5 minutes to take our orders. We order glasses of wine, appetizers, salads and main courses, boom, boom, boom. We know what we want and we are going to eat it. Wine comes, appetizers come; we eat appetizers, take swallows of wine and, holy moly, the salads are in front of us. We are eating our salads and, holy moly, we’re not done our salads but the main course is here! We shuffle our half-eaten salad plates to the side and pair them up with our new plates of food. Come on now, get eating! We are working our way through the buffet of food in front of us, maybe 2/3 through, and now the waiter wants to take our dessert order. And, by golly, we give it to him. The whole affair might take an hour, an hour and a half tops. We leave the restaurant saying, that was good, but I ate too much.

Dining Scenario:

We might be hungry; we might not. But we are aware of our hunger level when we go out to eat. In the restaurant, we sit down, the waiter gives us menus, brings us water, asks us if we want cocktails. We say, maybe we’ll have wine with dinner. Waiter walks away, comes back in 5 minutes to take our orders. We ask him about various wines … smooth or tart, big or light … could we taste the Pinot Noir and the Côtes du Rhône before we decide? Waiter leaves to get our tastes and we peruse the menu. We discuss what might be interesting to try or if we have a particular craving. He returns, we taste, we discuss the tastes, decide on the wine and ask the waiter to recommend an appetizer. We thank him and discuss his suggestion, along with our own choices, while he gets the wine. When he pours the wine, we say we’d like to start with garlic prawns; we’re going to share. And, what else can I get for you? he says. That’s all for the moment. We’d rather order course by course, just in case what we eat now changes what we want later. Do you mind? We smile. No, of course not, he says, I’ll leave you a menu and you let me know.  So … on it goes like this … course by course … often, our meal ending three hours later. We are full but not too full, having enjoyed each morsel, sometimes wishing for more. There are times when we never get to a main course, just appetizers and salads, then possibly dessert. If one dish is bigger or richer than we imagined, it changes what we decide to order next. And mostly, we share – not because we are too cheap to get our own, but because sharing gives us the opportunity to taste more while eating less.

This is the way I like to engage with food and also with my dining companions. Imagine how conversation can ebb and flow over three-or-so hours at a table with no distractions other than savoring delicious food together.  Some of my truest, deepest and most inspiring conversations with others have come from these slow and easy dining experiences.

I will say that many servers struggle with this way of dining. They are trained to be fast and efficient, to get you in and get you out. Intentionally slowing their “protocol” down sometimes requires firm confidence but, hey, I figure that when you are the paying customer, you get to choose how you dine. Right? However, once they get the hang of what you are doing, I find it becomes a nice experience for them, as well. Who wouldn’t appreciate that you are appreciating and savoring every bite of what is put before you?

If, from this little comparison, you have identified yourself as an “eater” rather than a “diner” I invite you to try the latter. It changes the way you think about food. And, it’s a delicious experience.

Eat well. Be happy.

Author: Plynn Gutman

Plynn Gutman is a certified coach with a refreshing and holistic approach to achieving an Integrated Life. Specialized retreats, workshops and classes are all a part of Plynn’s wide array of resources that she offers along with useful life lessons, tips and advice through her blog. A writer at heart, with several titles available, Plynn's variety of work appeals to everyone.

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