Lunch to go
I had pulled up in a smallish country town to collect my bearings. It was just after midday.
Two men and a woman came out of a little take-away food shop, stepped toward the road guttering and opened individual paper bags containing what was probably their lunch. And, there on the curb, they dined.
All toes pointed to the roadway, eyes staring into the middle distance, seemingly registering little. An occasional car drove across their line of vision but they took no notice as they dined.
From the other side of the road I surreptitiously watched as this small piece of street theatre unfolded.
In the woman’s hand was a salad sandwich, which she ate somewhat like a horse eats grass from a proffered hand. Outstretched lips gathered in the shreds of lettuce escaping from the sandwich’s edges and, as her lips worked at collecting, so her jaws followed, rapidly masticating one mouthful after another.
There was no communication between her and her two companions.
Number one man had a meat pie released halfway from its paper bag. He worked the pie into his mouth with experienced precision and, whilst I noticed that it was done neatly, with not a smidgeon spilt, it really was just careful shovelling. And, so, he too, proceeded to eat his lunch without acknowledging either of his fellow diners.
Male number two, the third member of the trio, was eating a bread roll, the contents of which were not apparent, but obviously something simple like ham or cheese. The roll was a little on the tough side presumably, as he tore at it with his canine teeth, using one side of his mouth, ripping hunks off and chewing very energetically.
And that, then was their lunch.
These three people had stood on the curb of a quite unattractive street; cars and their accompanying noise and fumes no more than a metre away from where they stood. They neither spoke to, nor looked at, each other as they ate. The 'meal' only took minutes to devour. Once finished, they clambered into the car and drove off.
And now I am thinking about eating and its relationship to civilisation.
Many of us consider our current world to be at the point of the most sophisticated civilisation so far known to humankind. If this is so, then why had I just observed three people eat in a manner that one would more likely relate to primitive peoples or creatures in the wild, or on a farm or at the zoo?
I had watched as three people grazed, gnawed and gulped in caveman manner.
And the awful fact is that similar little scenes are being replayed on a thousand street corners, and on public transport and, indeed almost anywhere you care to look.
What has gone wrong?
It seems odd that, at a time when television programs and online sites about cooking beautiful food and all manner of exotic dining threaten to overload our viewing, there seems to be so much eating 'on the go', in the street, on the tram, wherever.
The cooking shows on television and the current plethora of cooking books, blogs and Instagram posts would have us believe that most of us are so intently interested in food that we are all constantly cooking up wonderful meals and dining on most attractively presented fare.
And yet, at the same time, there seems to be a whole generation for whom sitting up to a table for a meal is a foreign experience and for whom cutlery is a total mystery.
It’s not just Macca’s, KFC and their fast-food siblings that encourage this; have a good look in the supermarket, where you will find nearly everything edible can be purchased as finger food or in individual packages.
Perhaps this is the ultimate in civilised eating - to be without the need to consider the eating of food as a time for sitting down together at specific times of the day. Perhaps it is truly more civilised to merely refuel our bodies whenever, wherever and however necessary.
Is formal cooking, serving and presenting of food on plates, on tablecloth or place-mat, on a table merely a pretentious affectation; an unnecessary waste of time? Time that could be put to more productive use?
Are all the ways of presenting and displaying food merely a new art form, unrelated to ordinary society?
Just a newish form of entertainment?
What a shame!