Guilt Free Eating

The Husband and I dine out too much.

The proof is there every year in the Amex statement, right under the section marked “restaurants,” usually prominently displayed near the top, somewhere around “grocery stores” and “wine.”

We like to eat. We like good food. We like good wine.

dining out

Now to some, this may sound like what I would say right after “Hello my name is Tess,” at a local 12 step meeting (take your pick) but I don’t have a drinking or eating problem. What I do have is a drinking and eating things that taste delicious problem. But I’ve never dug birthday cake out of the trash or drank wine that has been opened for more than a day, which to me must show some amount of restraint.

Every year when I see that statement I do feel a certain amount of guilt. But to be fair to us, there are plenty of things we don’t splurge on. I don’t care much about jewelry. The Husband drives a car that’s over 10 years old. I insist on buying cheap toilet paper. But when it comes to food and wine, we just can’t help ourselves, even when we’re dining at home.

Life is just too short to eat shitty food. I don’t want anything out of a packet, anything that has to be microwaved. For one thing, I refuse to believe that stuff is good for you. When I look at the ingredients in something I’m about to eat, I tend to want it to be just one thing, that thing being the thing I’m about to eat. When I see the list of chemicals in some foods, it’s hard for me to believe that those things haven’t caused a golf ball sized tumor on a rat in lab somewhere. Also, I rather prefer we not test anything on animals at all. Sorry for the radical thinking, but it seems to me the best way to avoid having to test chemicals in our food on animals is to not put chemicals in our food to begin with.

dining outBut ultimately food that’s better for you tastes better, too. (Now I know one of you is going to say something about Pringles, which – in addition to being a potato chip – doesn’t even look like it was a potato once putting it on a whole new level of being processed junk. But I will stipulate that yes, Pringles are delicious.) So many times I’ve decided to splurge on the burrata rather than just buy mozzarella, which is also delicious but just not as delicious. So many times The Husband runs out to grab something to just “throw on the grill” and comes home with a bone in rib eye because they were on sale and looked great. So many trips to the Italian market only to come home with 3 types of olive oils, because I need one for cooking, one for dipping, and one infused with truffles.

Now you may be asking why, when clearly we have good food at home, do we still spend so much money eating out, especially when we have no control over what’s in the food we’re consuming there?

There’s an intimacy to sharing a meal with someone. And it’s much harder to get in your own home.

For starters, when you’re sitting in a restaurant, you sit across from someone else. You look at them directly. You’re not staring at the lawn that needs watering or wondering what that noise from the refrigerator is. Now it’s not like at home we eat like Lord and Lady Grantham, sitting on opposite sides of a Citizen Kane sized conference table. We have an average size table, and unlike many people, we actually do eat our meals there. But there’s still too many distractions. There’s laptops open to Facebook and Twitter…The cats I have to chase from napping on a placemat…The knowledge that there’s bills waiting to be paid in the other room. dining out

Plus at home, you’re doing it all yourself. It’s hard to maintain a conversation, to focus on the person with you when you’re getting up because you need more water, or the steak needs to be put back on the grill, or you forgot the salt. Eating in a restaurant versus at home is the difference between flying on a plane and driving a car. On the plane, you can have some cocktails, watch a movie and read a good book. You can take a nap and feel refreshed when you land. If you’re driving a car, you’re doing all the work. You have to remain alert and there’s no warm cookies for you when you get there. Is it cheaper to drive yourself? Sure. But then you may never see Creed or enjoy The Girls.

This is our conundrum: do we save money for retirement or do we enjoy each others’ company on a regular basis? Whenever the question is, “What do you want to do about lunch?” or “What are we doing for dinner?” I know that choosing to stay at home will be fiscally responsible. I also know that if we go out, we’ll both be more relaxed. We’ll have a conversation. We’ll talk about things we’ve been meaning to tell each other and things we hadn’t yet thought to share. We may even make each other laugh. And I know you can’t put a price tag on that. Just as life is too short for shitty food, it’s also too short not to spend it with those you love in a way that allows you to experience what you loved about them to begin with.

dining outThe other day I woke up with a stomach ache brought on by a nightcap that turned into two. The Husband and I were at a bar enjoying a glass of wine and having a delicious chat. Life is hard and these moments can be too rare not only between partners but friends, as well. People are busy; they’re distracted. They sit down wanting to see you, but too caught up in the emails they’re getting from the office or the latest trouble at home. You have to do what you can to create them and hold onto them when you do. So when he said, “One more?” even though it was late and I was already tired and this was far from our first glass of the night, “I said, let’s split a glass” because I know these moments are important and I don’t want it to end. And because The Husband knows these moments are important and he doesn’t want it to end, he brought back two glasses. But even though I cursed his name most of the following day, it was such a nice night, I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same thing all over again.

But don’t take my functional alcoholism’s word for it. One day I was talking to a financial advisor, no doubt about how I could somehow have an IRA and eat it, too. This is a man who has seen all manner of money being spent – and in Los Angeles -where people can be obscene with money. He has seen more people make mistakes with money than an accountant who only handles rappers. His sole purpose is to help people save money. And he told me not to worry about spending money on restaurants. He said he’d rather see clients do that than just buy stuff. When you do that you just have things, he said. But when you dine out you have experiences to share and look back on.

One of my favorite things in the world is to share a meal with people whether it’s at home or in a restaurant and whether it’s burrata or grilled cheese. Culturally it’s in my genes, I think, being half Italian. But it’s never been better summed up for me than this quote by Sergio Esposito from one of my favorite books about food, wine and Italy, Passion on the Vine – dining out

“The meals…were designed to prolong our time together; the food was of course meant to nourish us, but it was also meant to satisfy, in some deeper way, our endless hunger for one another.”

Whatever you do, let’s never stop hungering for one another.






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