By Edward Schneider
My eating habits deteriorate when Jackie is away visiting her father. I rarely dine out, and I cook only occasionally and at a very basic level, often defrosting and modernizing old leftovers rather than starting from scratch. Once in a while I make something a little more ambitious, like a ramp pizza.
So for these short periods I become more like a typical Manhattan apartment dweller: I order in. Cheese steaks (I get two, one with Whiz and one with provolone and peppers, and both with onions, eat half of each and save the rest for another day); deli (again, eat half, but this time freeze the rest for corned beef hash upon Jackie’s return); and sometimes middling pizza, though I’ve become fussier about this in recent times. (It is interesting that this regime involves far more meat – and meat of dubious provenance – than our normal diet.)
During Jackie’s most recent absence, I had an errand to run, and when it was done I realized that I was a block away from a pretty good barbecue restaurant. That sounded appealing – I hadn’t eaten barbecue for ages. So I got a takeout bag full of ribs – spare and back, a rack of each. I figured they’d last me three days. Fifteen years ago they’d have lasted me two. Or one and a half.
That evening I turned on the oven and reheated some of the ribs, wrapped in foil, poured myself a beer and dug into what I thought was going to be a messy, gluttonous, wonderful feast.
I ate one spare rib and two baby back ribs. They were fine.
I then stripped the meat from all the rest, wrapped it up and froze it, on the theory that I would get back to it some day for re-purposing. (If I do, you’ll hear all about it, I’m sure.)
First of all, I was sated. Secondly, I was bored. The two sensations are not unconnected; in fact it is hard to discern which is which. For some time, Jackie has been saying that she can rarely face the flavor and textural monotony of a big chunk of meat or fish. For my part, I don’t say it aloud – I want to keep my options open – but the fact is that I feel pretty much the same way. It isn’t that the ribs weren’t vividly seasoned, deliciously smoky and cooked to what Swanson’s would call melting tenderness. It wasn’t the ribs; it was my capacity for ribs.
And it isn’t (entirely) a question of volume: somehow, a large bowl of pasta doesn’t create the same appetite-slaying ennui – typically, we’ll both have seconds on noodle days or rice days (which are many). I’ll bet that the aggregate mass of five or six small courses, plus bread and dessert and marshmallows, on a fancy restaurant tasting menu is equal to a Peter Luger steak.
I don’t think we’re alone here. And I don’t think it is entirely age-related. We’re all growed up now, but lots of kids (i.e., people in their thirties and forties) seem to gravitate toward restaurants that offer what have come to be called small plates – at least the kids who aren’t eating in steakhouses or lining up to work their way through dishes like The Breslin’s smoked pork belly with mashed potatoes for two.
And I can’t blame it on the culture of Twitter or the SMS either. It is all too obvious that I tend to write more than 140 characters at a stretch. Both Jackie and I can sit in bliss through four-hour operas, and at least one of us (not me) has gone back to reading complicated nineteenth-century novels with sentences as long as entireNew Yorker restaurant reviews. So it isn’t as though we are lacking in attention span.
We simply get sick of hunks of meat or fish after, say, three or four ounces’ worth.
I’m not sure I need any hand-holding on this – life goes on even for those of us who will share a small rib eye steak and have enough left over for sandwiches the next day. I’m just curious to know whether any of you have noted a similar phenomenon and have given it any thought.