Are We Encouraging Bad Manners?
I have a bone to pick… Or, as you’ll see… a crumb to pick up.
It seems that many American culinary elite – along with the charitable organizations they support – have fallen prey to an ill-mannered habit when combining good food and fundraising. And frankly, it’s high time someone said out loud what we’ve all been commenting to one another at these events for far too long now:
Why on earth must we pay outrageous amounts of money – even in the name of charity – for the rare opportunity to experience the imaginative off-menu creations of divinely talented culinary artists… and yet be required to eat while STANDING UP?
Logistically, it’s an understandable faux pax.
It’s easier for chefs and servers to stand still, and the people to come to them. It’s easier for charitable organizations and the like to lure culinary artists to participate in an event where logistics are made simple. Understandable… but not pardonable.
Ladies are at a disadvantage at these culinary events that I adoringly call “Scoop and Plop Extravaganzas.” Ladies arrive evening handbag in tow, which contains the soon-to-be-utilized cell phone camera. An event program and maybe even a live auction placard are gifted upon check-in. Then comes the wine glass or welcome cocktail – a worthy investment to warm folks up for the soliciting to come.
Two hands officially over full.
But wait! Next up is a parade of tiny plates, spoons, and creative palm-sized serving vessels presenting innovative bites from the area’s leading chefs, eagerly waiting for you to try the bite and give them the nod of approval in the moment of service. The often visually stunning bites are, alas, often too vertical for a lady’s mouth to accommodate. An awkward escape from anxious eyes provide momentary respite before a cacophony of spilled forks and toothpicks always seems to happen at the same moment that a line of colleagues approach eager to make introductions. Unable to talk, a panicked search for a pile of cocktail napkins becomes the most important task of the evening, as the seemingly only available method to manage the mess that is an expensive evening out.
After an hour or so of being the lead in this comedic cycle of dripping, dropping, juggling and wide-mouthed stuffing, one begrudgingly leaves the scene with sticky fingers, bad food photos, and only half-full of food that was never actually tasted but yet covered head to tow with crumbs and drips clinging to a dry-clean-only wardrobe.
Of course, it would stand to reason that men have an edge at our own game. They wear into the event a vessel equipped to carry their program, bidding placard, a good stock of cocktail napkins and two or three forks; it’s called their sport coat or evening jacket. Pockets inside, outside, left, right and chest become the essence of a wearable Girl Friday.
But it doesn’t help. As if watching grown men walk around a black tie event with forks, paper napkins, programs and dirty toothpicks hanging awkwardly from their pockets isn’t enough, those $100 designer ties have become nothing more than a disposable napkin tied around their neck serving to preserve and protect the shirt beneath as they defend against aioli and gravy drips resulting from their frantic effort to satisfy their growing dinner-time hunger one appetizer-sized portion at a time.
Collectively, our crumbs, toothpicks, forks, knives and napkins fall helter-skelter with blizzard-like abandon despite our best efforts otherwise leaving the aftermath of exclusive events resembling more of a mash-up between a ticker-tape parade and a post-college-football-game stadium.
The fact of the matter is simple. Tiny composed dishes are impossible to consume neatly while in a standing position. For me, the scene has repeated itself so many times recently, I’m aghast at the state of society – and in turn, myself.
In recent weeks, I’ve dropped toothpicks like missiles in the presence of fellow media and celebrity chefs. I’ve had to take a picture with an Iron Chef with a drip on my shirt. I’ve been stared down by chefs while clumsily shoving a 5 inch tall “crostini” bite into my mouth. Anyone who’s ever done laundry (and hopefully that’s most people) should know that when stacked taller than it’s width, the layers won’t stand. Then, why on earth am I repeatedly expected to eat the layered culinary equivalent of the Tower of Pisa… while standing up? I’m baffled.
This tragedy repeats itself innocently while society asks our children to sit down and eat at a table. We train our youth to be orderly and neat in all of life. Volumes have been written on the subject. Yet, while the right hand preaches, the left hand wanders around the finest social events eating thoughtfully crafted food. Standing. Up.
In an effort to be logistically efficient, events instead produce stained clothes and distracted conversation where there was once generous philanthropy, meaningful social interactions and culinary appreciation.
For the love of all that is good and decent, we really must stop the madness and re-connect with our social graces. We’re Southerners, for heaven’s sake. We’re a genteel, well-mannered geography. Generous to each other in word and deed and lovers of our food. And we need to start acting like it. The home of “Yes “Ma’am” needs to draw a line in the sand and set an example for the rest of America. It’s time for extraordinary food to be enjoyed, savored, discussed and appreciated – and a healthier dose of charitable checks written…. all while sitting down.
Use your manners. Pull up a chair, y’all.