Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dining Alone - Dining while ailing

Sometimes you Dine Alone simply because you can't dine with others. I don't mean you have to be separated from them physically - but for some people, your personal condition makes you unable to enjoy and share a meal with others.

Those who are ailing experience that. And so you sit, sipping your broth and nibbling your saltines while others tuck into a hearty stew or sizzling steak, companionably together at the same table but oh, so apart in taste, sensation, and - sometimes - satisfaction.

It's difficult to avoid dissatisfaction. No matter how delicate, how finely seasoned, how fresh the ingredients of your potage or pap, it's hard not to covet a slab of grilled meat when it's there across the table, in front of your companions.

And they - if they are kind and empathetic people - find it difficult to enjoy their char-broiled morsels while you sit nibbling your pale and limp noodles.

Perhaps this is why, in many cases, the person who is ill has the upper hand, and commands the stomachs of the entire household. Food writer M.F. K. Fisher wrote of this dynamic from the point of view of the non-ailing, as her grandmother's "nervous stomach" set the menu for her family as she grew up:

"We had a fine time when she was not there, mostly in the dining room. Nothing made us secretly happier than to be told that next week she would have to leave for Battle Creek or even for a week or two in Long Beach for a religious convention. It made our mouths water. No more pale bland overcooked unseasoned barely palatable food, adapted to her gastric requirements as established by the Sanitarium diet kitchens! No more Boiled Dressing on watery lettuce! No more "plain" stewed hen, with meaningless dumplings in  gravy equally without either taste or color. No more stewed tomatoes with pink soggy bread in them!"
Fisher claims that her childhood accommodation of her Grandmother's Nervous Stomach "undoubtedly influenced my whole future, with its dictatorial rumblings and belchings." The combined  awareness, frustration, and sense of guilty pleasure gave the young Fisher something to focus her writing talents upon.
"It is plain to me now that our grandmother's gastric peculiarities nurtured all our latent sensuality and gourmandise."

It's telling that among Fisher's most notable accomplishments of food writing was her translation from the French of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's "The Physiology of Taste, or, Meditation on Transcendental Gastronomy."

The 18th century epicurian had strong views on the enjoyment of food. Brillat-Savarin had little patience with doctors and their prescriptions of sickbed diets:
"From the minute one has the misfortune to fall in their hands, they submit him to a procession of prohibitions, and make him renounce everything enjoyable in his daily habits.

I protest against most of these interdictions of useless.

I say useless, because sick people almost never benefit from what is unpleasant to them.

A sensible doctor must never lose sight of the natural tendancy of our preferences, nor forget that if painful sensations are depressing by their very nature, those which are agreeable lead perforce to our well-being. It has often been seen how a little wine, a sip of coffee, or a few drops of liqueur will bring back a smile to the face of the most hopeless invalid."
Perhaps he was right. I haven't yet had taken a chance on a little wine or a few drops of liqueur, but yesterday, in spite of my diet's restrictions on strawberries, I still allowed myself a wee sliver of my friend Dorothianne's strawberry-rhubarb pie.

And I am all the finer for it.

1 comment:

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I'm glad you had a piece of pie.
I spent many months nursing an allergic baby, and it was so difficult to watch others eat what I could not have (that is, could not have without causing pain and injury to the baby).

At my house, if someone has an upset stomach, the whole family is fed a careful diet. I remain convinced that it keeps unknown tender tummies from rolling and pitching.