Flavor of the Week: Eating Alone

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Birds do it. Bees do it. And if we’re continuing with that theme, even educated flees do it.

I do it. I eat alone.

Yes, in my head all of the above was sung to that tune.

Unlike falling in love, as Ella Fitzgerald puts it, eating alone does not seem to be something we all do. Eating alone requires a certain confidence; a balanced ego, if you will. Of course, if your ego is so large that you become insecure, which is normal so don’t be too worrisome if this is you, then you would never be seen eating alone. If you are this person, then your ego is dependent on what everyone else thinks of you and your sad salad bar creation with maybe some whole grain bread on the side.

There is also an alternative ego: your ego could be what I would like to think is well-sized, so that you are comfortable enough to eat alone without having to tell a passing friend, “Oh, I’m just reading quietly here, getting some ME time!” and push her away when in truth, you just had no one to sit with when you got to the place of eating, the home of said pathetic salad bar, and you’d rather stick with your story than admit your intentions were not solitude and loneliness from the start.

There is an art to eating alone, of course, no matter what size your ego decides to make itself on any day of the week. One must consider where he or she is eating (consider seating arrangements, location of place, type of eatery/cuisine), what he or she is eating, and what he or she is doing, if anything, while eating.

All rules can fly out the window if you decide to throw them there. My dad has two great stories from his high school years. Both involve vomit, but the more hysterical (and perhaps less disgusting) of the two is when he was driving his ‘Stang (hell yeah daddio) and his inebriated friend was riding shotgun, who proceeded to roll down the passenger window and vomit out onto one of the great highways of central Jersey as my father continued driving at 70 miles per hour.

In this fashion, you can throw the etiquette of eating alone out the window.

To do that, though, you must be truly confident, like the tired, middle aged people on lunch break with not a brain cell to spare for catching up on Instagram or reading the Times. Instead, these people eat alone, like so alone that his or her phone is not in plain sight, and they look out the window and make me think, wow, is this my New York life in ten to twenty years?

These people are the exception, though, because they don’t care about eating alone because they don’t think about eating alone. They just eat.

If you are a college freshman, though, you think and care about eating alone. You think and care about eating alone so much that you have group chats with eight girls in them and your conversations, maybe even your friendships, are built from the foundation of sharing meals, eating at the same times, and not being together but rather just not being alone.

To avoid eating alone at any stage of life, one might get “to-go” or “take out” and eat at his or her desk. Whenever I try to do this, whether it’s to save time or to avoid eating alone, I can never actually work and eat simultaneously. I have discovered that it is a lot more comfortable to eat in a place of eating, where you can chew freely, and if I’m going to be catching up on Instagram for those fifteen or twenty minutes regardless of where I am, I may as well eat alone.

So, I do. I eat alone.

I’m not the best at it, though. I usually spend my time on my phone, or writing emails between bites. Once in a while, however, I have no shame. I get quality, one-on-one time with Dinner or Lunch, who become proper nouns when your friends with real names are not dining with you, and I just look at my food and think about chewing like the French nutritionists tell us to do.

In the city, I can eat alone anywhere at any time and feel okay. In suburbia, however, I cannot do that. This could be for a few reasons: I am still afraid of half of the people I went to high school with and their judgments; the odds of me running into someone I know, even a mother, at an eatery is too high, and our conversation would ruin the point of eating alone; when I am in suburbia I usually spend most of my free time catching up with people, and the best way to do that is over a meal (arguably because it is a good way to avoid eating alone); people are in less of a rush, restaurants are in less of a rush, there are less places for counter service, less people to people-watch; this leads to everything becoming awkward.

I want to say that eating alone is eating alone, so if I can do it in the city I can do it in a small, Jewish suburb of the city. But then I remember that eating alone, like the math from AP Calculus I have very much forgotten, depends on its factors, as previously stated; it is not an independent variable. Math people: did I do that right?

I have no problem eating alone when I’m alone, if that makes sense. I don’t get self-conscious. I’ll face the world solo with my fork and knife — and teaspoon, if I’m feeling dessert — even in peak hours of eating.

Do you? Would you? Did you? Don’t do? Should you? LMK. Asking for a friend.

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On Getting Downright Offensive

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“Wow, you must’ve been really hungry!”

If you want a mental death sentence, tell me this.

My uncle’s partner did, actually, earlier this week. He’s on a “health kick,” which means spinning classes Tuesday through Thursday. On Wednesday night, I joined him and his biker shorts in the eaves of an old church in Flatiron, and yes, I love how ridiculous that sentence sounds but no, there’s truly no other way to explain what we did without sounding so ridiculous. Afterwards, we picked up dinner to-go from Whole Foods. Salmon, broccoli rabe, and collard greens (the new kale! kaboom!) for me, and turkey, sweet potatoes, and broccoli rabe for he and my uncle.

I was starving, so I ate like a hungry girl. For context, three-quarters of my plate was green stuff from the ground. And no, I’m not talking about the mary jane. That’s a different uncle.

And then it came, flying right across the table like a sharpened steak knife right at my poor pescetarian head.

“Wow, you must’ve been really hungry!”

I scowled. I wanted to jump across the table in rage, Mean Girls style. I wanted to make a bar graph comparing the nutrition contents of each of our meals. I wanted to tell him that there is no shame in eating until you’re full, and there’s no shame in eating a hella lot of collard greens.

Everyone’s been in situations like these, where we aren’t given backhanded compliments but almost the opposite — passive aggressive nips that tug at your ego’s soft spots. Wow, you must’ve been hungry, is perhaps what we can call the “classic,” here.

Getting back to the story — no, I did not unleash my defensive string. I kept those guys on the bench as my fork gracefully reached across the table, stabbed another piece of broccoli rabe, and took it to the mouth like a girl who didn’t half-ass that spin class. (Because we all know spin is easy to fake. We’ve all been there. You know what I’m talking about.)

Later, I vented to my mom about the one-liner that came my way at dinner. “You’re being oversensitive,” she told me then just like she did when —-. He’s a guy, she told me. He doesn’t understand. It’s all in your head.

Being oversensitive isn’t always bad, I guess. And maybe I’m saying that because I know I’m oversensitive, but so is everyone else when someone says something that really gets your weak spot. It’s part of the human condition. If we were oversensitive about nothing, then we simply wouldn’t care.

When an adult recently told me he thought “anorexics are strong, but I have no respect for bulimics,” I wanted to tell him how inappropriate that statement is, how ignorant, how serious of a disease both conditions are, how many people it effects. The lecture I could give would last half an hour.

So, maybe he was ignorant. Maybe, in my broccoli rabe fiasco, the comment was ignorant because it was made by a “guy” (though in my opinion, no excuse — collapse traditional gender roles, people!!) who didn’t know I’m oversensitive and doesn’t understand how his comment is one that knocks most young women get off their rockers, which is oxymoronic to say but true.

Call me a skeptic, or maybe a pessimist, but I find it hard to believe that people can say things like that unbeknownst of their sting. I thought my uncle’s partner, on health kick galore — I mean, he’s just catching on to the spinning trend, for god’s sake — could be fully aware of how his comment would be received because it would make him feel better about what he ate. I sound crazy, I know !!!, but if I was talking about a teenage girl making a comment like this, I know you’d believe me. Sometimes, people are bitter.

 

Mom could be right, as per usual, and there may be a good difference between those who are offensive and those who are offended in a singular scenario. The true intent of any statement depends on the person. Alas, I am left to rely on the good of humankind, which may be confined to the recent surge in 20-year-old jeans available for purchase, or the fact that my cheetah print espadrilles cost $40, or even that I’m no longer afraid to eat what I want and wear what I choose.

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On Workout Clothes

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“You look so cute! Are you going to the gym later?” I asked my good friend Allie after running into her in the street. In a non-offensive way, I was pleasantly surprised to see her so put-together in workout clothes (I know her writing well, which often pokes fun at her history with dieting and reluctance to work out, so no I wasn’t being a total asshole).

“Nope! Nope! Not really!” she smiled. And this is why I love Allie.

So I told her, “Jesus, I fucking love you,” and we continued walking in opposite directions down the street, me to get coffee and her, to do something that didn’t involve cardio.

Rewind a bit. I was “pleasantly surprised to see her so put-together in workout clothes,” which I said because it was true and not so I could properly set up the point I’m about to make.

Now, zoom: “so put-together in workout clothes.”

Since when is that a thing? A thing that’s such a thing that it’s already engrained in my subconscious, like I don’t even have to deliberate whether or not Allie looked put together and consider her Lulu Lemon a part of that, but I sight-read the situation and BAM, it was automatic love, Allie looked good.

Usually, when I put on workout clothes in the morning, it’s to push myself to make it to the gym at some point later. This is a method we like to call “No Excuses.” Rarely do I go to the trouble of putting on full workout attire, sports bra included, with zero intention of going to the gym. Sports bras are just hard to put on sometimes, and smush the boobs, so I generally opt for the “complete slob” look which is yoga leggings and a sweater and sneakers and regular/no bra.

But the funny thing is that if I were to wear head-to-toe workout clothes–and real fancy workout clothes, not an old college t-shirt–I would look way chicer than I do in the “complete slob” look though an equally minimal effort was put into both outfits.

I understand the phenomenon, but it still entertains me. It’s like my theory of the Green Juice Effect (you can read about it here), which was discovered after I walked around Madison Square Park, green juice in hand. There, something magical happened, and the strangers around me ignored my resting bitch face for once. They smiled at me, they looked at me, and that’s greater than any Hanukkah miracle I’ve ever experienced. I realized that green juice was the newest accessory, and carrying it was an easy way of saying “I care about my body,” “I am fit,” “I suffer via blended greens for the sake of that healthy glow, hell yeah I do,” and even “I have the extra cash to buy overpriced green juice instead of something from the office cafeteria.”

Over the last year-ish, workout clothing has done the same thing. It’s a twofer–your body is covered in clothing, and the clothing accessorizes your personality even better than that monogrammed necklace you got for graduation.

As for when working out became a status symbol? I really don’t know. Maybe it was the rise of the $35, 45 minute SoulCycle class, which I can’t imagine paying for six days a week, or when Net-a-Porter started selling $900 Fendi stretch jersey stirrup leggings. A body is the one thing everyone has. Obviously there was a time in the early 80s when not all of America could afford Jane Fonda workout videos, so I suppose physical fitness has always somehow been divided by socioeconomic status. But still, working out now isn’t nearly as cool unless you look good doing it, which is particularly annoying when you aren’t seeing #results and god should just throw you a bone and give you a good pair of mesh cutout spandex (that rarely sell for below $80, by the way).

The new intersection between what you wear to the courts and what you wear to dinner is a whole different story. I never thought I would wear Nike Frees with jeans but hey, shit happens. Normcore happens. Ugh, normcore.

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