Aspen Times Weekly: Shame On You
PERCHED AT THE SUSHI BAR, I wonder if we are the most annoying guests, ever. I’m on a long-overdue girl date, which we both almost canceled, citing sheer exhaustion. Shortly before we arrive at the restaurant, my friend admits she accidentally pigged out on family meal before leaving her shift (at a restaurant), so she doesn’t have much of an appetite. Meanwhile, I’m ravenous, so we agree to stick to the plan. But not before I scarf a spinach salad at home to take the edge off. I don’t want to work through an obscene amount of food at the restaurant while my friend sips miso soup.
Once seated, we take a selfie — well, a half-dozen while trying to avoid shadows from harsh overhead lighting. Unsatisfied, we ask our server to snap one for us instead. Asking someone to pause in the middle of a job that requires rushing around a busy restaurant while keeping up an appearance of not rushing should factor into the tip, right? We feel the kitchen staff glaring at us as the camera flashes.
Then there’s a simple matter of seating. One of us is vegetarian, and while I respect that deeply personal decision, I wouldn’t assume prime real estate at the chef’s counter of a seafood-centric restaurant if I was going to request a salad. I regret this thought immediately. No diner should be limited to sitting in a certain area of a restaurant based on food preferences, yet it’s easy to justify our misguided beliefs.
Finally, at this particular spot I prefer to order multiple à la carte items instead of one main dish — all the better to taste a variety of flavors. I’m not sure that this behavior qualifies as fodder for staff to gripe about behind the scenes, but it does require a food runner to finagle multiple plates that may be ready at different times. When I remember who’s paying the bill, though, I recognize that I shouldn’t feel bad about grazing through a meal instead of ordering one hearty entrée.
“Don’t judge me,” I tell my pal before rattling off an obscure list of dinner cravings: One lobster taco. One miso-glazed eggplant appetizer. One order king crab sashimi. One specialty sushi roll with yellowtail and okra. One order tamago. I don’t want to be criticized for my motley array of foods, yet I make no secret about using the last item (neat squares of sweet-savory omelet bound with a strip of nori over sushi rice) as a Japanese restaurant litmus test. Tamago is almost like dessert, and let’s be honest: We probably won’t order anything from the pastry kitchen anyway.
Women are the worst when it comes to food shaming. Sometimes it’s in the form of an obvious sideways glance when a lady orders steak-frites followed by bread pudding the size of a small handbag. Or it’s a comment about the “massive” amount of food on the plate: “Are you going to eat all that?” (My favorite response: “Yeah, I’m still starving after that 10-course tasting earlier. My metabolism must be out of whack!”)
On the flip side, food policing can take shape as a sly remark about not eating enough: “That’s all you’re having?” or “Wow, I wish I could eat like that and stay so thin.” By definition, this kind of thinly veiled criticism is rooted in judgment. How do you know that the gal hasn’t been fasting all day to give herself “permission” to order a double cheeseburger? There’s no knowing what kind of private issues drive public behaviors, so shame on you for shaming someone about their consumption.
Yoga instructors often tell us to “let go of judgment.” The highest spiritual practice, according to Swami Kripalu, the founder of Kripalu Yoga, is self-observation without judgment — noticing thoughts without categorizing them as “good” or “bad,” just letting them exist and float away. The same goes for food. Popular media is constantly telling us what we should or should not be eating. “7 ‘Healthy” Foods to Avoid.” “The 20 Most Weight-Loss Friendly Foods on the Planet.” “30 Foods You Should Never Eat After Age 30.” (Flavored yogurt, canned soup, and Pop-Tarts/breakfast pastries top the list of the latter, in case you’re wondering.) I might argue that to eschew French croissants for life is to resign oneself to a mediocre existence. But there I go, judging those who abstain from flaky, buttery goodness as self-righteous health snobs.
Leave it to Amy Schumer to skewer these ridiculous behaviors. One segment on her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, comes to mind: Four females sit around a dining table, picking at their lunch and taking turns trying to one-up each other on how “bad” they are for how much they eat:
“I was cyberbullying my niece on Instagram the other day and I literally ate 15 mini muffins the other day. I’m so bad!”
“Yesterday, after I knelt on my gerbil to hear what sound it would make, I like wasn’t thinking, I ate a ball of mozzarella like it was a peach…I’m so bad!”
“I’m seriously bad: I can’t get out of bed without having a calzone…the other morning when that woman walked off the GW bridge, I didn’t do anything to help her. It’s because I was chewing my calzone. I’m so bad!”
Having survived my twenties and learning that there are lists of foods that I should avoid now in my thirties is enough to inspire me to act like I don’t care about the opinions of others — “It’s none of my business what you think of me” is a helpful motto, according to noted psychology research professor Brené Brown. However, sometimes the evidence of a person’s deep-rooted food insecurities — a comment from a dining companion or a funny glance from a stranger — throws you for a loop.
Back at the sushi bar, where I wonder just how critically we were being judged, I have a realization: Perhaps I shouldn’t spend any more time thinking about any of this. Shoot — there’s that word again.