Stephanie Lucianovic wrote something on Medium that I liked—especially its subject—and I thought about handing it off as one does in the technological, digital universe, to anyone that receives things I hand off. But the gesture of digital handing off is imprecise enough to bother me each time I do it. I don’t know what it means: sometimes “I agree,” sometimes “I support this person in general,” sometimes, “I feel like this, too.” That is to say: the trouble I have with passing things along is that I can never wholly mean it, because it seems to mean something different every time.
Instead, I wrote a few paragraphs on the same subject. Stephanie Lucianovic is a food writer, as am I. Her Medium piece is a pledge to people that invite her over for dinner that she is not, by virtue of commenting on the subjects professionally, judging her hosts’ food, their table, their refrigerator, the contents of their garbage cans, their silverware, or their kitchens, but simply enjoying them. Enjoying being invited and being served.
I liked reading it, because there is nothing that so obviates the entire philosophical and practical project of caring about food—and for various reasons in various moments writing about aspects of it—than considering the process of feeding friends and strangers as one in which guests could be so graceless as to think critically about any part of it, and choose to have a bad time if they don’t approve.
For me, as for the woman who wrote about it first, approval and disapproval have never been on the table. I honestly and childishly love to be invited to people’s houses. I love to be served any beverage in any glass—I began to write “any beverage but Kool-Aid” but then upon trying the words tasted the metallic sweet of that lurid red liquid and felt happy, and realized there were no exceptions. I like being served spaghetti with jarred sauce, overcooked pork chops, or cheese and crackers (though I have never understood crackers, and probably won’t eat them. But not out of judgment, just strange inexplicable preference.) Truly, I love being invited and being fed, because I reliably like knowing my friends remember me, and I reliably get hungry.
I’m bothering to write anything about it now first, because if any friend of mine does really still think I arrive to pass judgment, instead of to praise, then I want to make sure to correct it again. And because even if a critical stance is the opposite of how I and most of the professional cooks and food writers I know approach an honestly tendered invitation, I sometimes worry that non-professional food writers or food makers think that there is actually something good, some quality to be admired in treating invitations to people’s houses as opportunities for critique, only because today so much of the example one sees of cooking happens before judges.
I’ve also realized over the last few years that the only direction at all in which what anyone served could actually affect my time is if it were something that kept them jumping up and down and being in the kitchen while we’re in the dining room and never being able to focus on the conversation because the next course must be served and at the end of it I felt as though I’d been at their wedding—those events where everyone is acting very busy and making a lot of busy work, each identifying the purpose as in the service of other people’s good time.
It’s worth writing now if at all because the holidays are when this all gets thrown into high gear. It’s when some friend or relation won’t invite me over because they think I won’t approve of their spiral ham. It’s when some other will and won’t spend any time with me at the table because he’s decided not to cook the usual spiral ham. It’s when a lot of people will feel they are underperforming, a lot will be nervous, and a lot will be absent from the lives of whose performance they are acutely conscious.
I think there are a lot of occasions for remembering that most people, most of the time, are in it for the good, and will avoid or ignore the bad, digging toward their aim. But when everyone’s running into each other’s houses and kitchens are full of fumes and smoke and wonderful smells is an especially useful moment for such a remembrance, to ensure that the mad opening and closing of doors, stamping of feet, bending of heads over plates, lifting of glasses continues, without too many morbid barriers of always unseasonable self-consciousness in their way.