Aghast at Bad Table Manners
Uncommon though it is, from time to time I become smitten with a non-food related thinker/writer. One writer who has caught my attention recently surprised me by the offhanded insertion in a book that she doesn’t find table manners important and doesn’t enforce them with her children. I immediately recoiled at the idea of what I perceived as a slip in her character and a diminished quality of life…all because of a neglect to cultivate table manners. Am I really that uptight of a person?
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to understand that my attitude isn’t founded in snobbishness, and I hope it never comes across that way. Good table manners are so much more than just “keeping up appearances”. To me, proper manners at the table are important because they signify and establish a connection to food and those gathered around a table to share food.
The Significance of Good Table Manners
First, to qualify what I mean by good table manners: I don’t mean knowing the variations of elaborate table settings and the differences between a fish fork and a salad fork. I don’t mean the constant use of phrases beginning with “Could you please pass the…?”. In fact, I love it when guests are comfortable enough around my table to serve themselves, even if that involves long arm reaches. I also don’t mean never eating with your hands and fingers, since several foods are best enjoyed that way.
Table manners, in my opinion, are rooted in mindfulness. It should be a cultivated habit to savor food, taking the time to thoughtfully chew and taste food. I squirm at the appearance of a diner shoveling food into his/her mouth and gulping it down, barely pausing between bites. This manner of eating, by the way, often incites overeating when the eater doesn’t register the food, the brain communicates too late the feeling of satiety…if it’s even possible to reach satiety with this method.
Manners and Mindfulness
I also believe eating without mindfulness is disrespectful of the food and the journey it’s made to reach my plate. Involved in that journey are the land and producers who brought the food to life, and the person who selected it as an ingredient and turned it into a meal. It’s a long journey, and when it includes the sacrifice of animal life, it becomes even more necessary to acknowledge the experience of eating with certain formalities/manners that mark the act as one of importance.
Plus, being pleasant and fully present at the table enables the formation of a community among fellow diners. Sharing a great meal with people you like, without anyone being offensive or feeling offended because of bad table manners, has to be one of life’s greatest experiences.
Do table manners really matter?
For me, yes. I worry a lot about turning into a mindless consumer. I don’t for one minute believe that by noticing and appreciating every mouthful I will weaken the evils of industrial agriculture and commercial food processing. But, I do believe that eating with good manners is a way to engage with the world by being fully available to the way food interacts with all of our senses. And this makes it worth the effort to seek out good food produced in good ways.
What about you? What are your opinions about good/bad table manners?
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