The world of culinary delights is vast, well populated and infinitely wondrous. If I had to come down on one side, I would say that I am pro-food, and that everyone should have as much as they like, especially if they’re hungry.
If I may paraphrase the great Douglas Adams;
When all the questions of space, time, matter and the nature of being have been resolved, only one question remains: Where shall we have dinner?
I like to cook for others; when I lived with Best Friend Dan we would make sure we made time to have Wednesday night off and I would make a spicy meaty pasta dish from scratch, with crisps on top, and homemade ice cream and we would watch stand-up comedy and thriller films and eat ourselves sick. They were some of the best nights ever.
However, there comes a time when one must fend for oneself, and only for oneself. If you’re like me, that time is all the time.
The amount of times I’ve been dining out alone, writing in a notepad to convince people who aren’t interested that I’m a restaurant critic and thus have a reason to be there, ruining the atmosphere and spoiling their night is, frankly, none. Why leave the house? I read an article about a man who proposed to his girlfriend and was publicly humiliated when she rejected him, but he had to sit and eat his steak because he’d paid so much for it. She took hers to-go.
One of the semi-tragic benefits of being fundamentally lonely is that whilst you won’t be sharing your mealtimes with a loved one, making pleasant small talk about the days events or what’s on telly, you will be able to relive the whole experience verbatim the next night when you eat the other half of your dish, with an additional aftertaste of microwaves and shame.
Your diet will hold out for as long as your pride, but there will come a point when it isn’t really worth putting effort in, as no-one will be impressed anyway. This is the tipping point; it’s very easy to give up and settle for quick fixes and things the come in plastic trays. A cheeky pizza or takeaway is an indulgence for a couple, or group of two-or-more friends1 but for one it’s a bit tragic. It says ‘I have given up on me. I do not deserve my own effort. I will eat this, not because it is tasty, but so that I can survive to see if things get better.’
Eventually you may grow to resent the process of cooking, opting instead for the quick and painless microwave dinner or similar meal for one, just to avoid being seemingly judged by your saucepans. This in turn may spill over into seeing every aspect of a meal as a failed test of companionship. It never goes quite as far as writing ‘PATHETIC’ in alphabet spaghetti, but I have caught myself staring forlornly at the plate like it’s done me a personal injustice.
The ultimate question is whether any dish, and the preparation thereof is a suitable metaphor for apathy, whatever the cause. Either way, I’m in trouble, as some of my favourite dishes are self-indulgence; macaroni cheese bagels, for example, or peanut-butter beans.2
The self-scan areas of supermarkets have been a godsend for people like me who have to endure the admonishing gaze of scorn or pity from cashiers. A machine won’t judge me as I zip a microwave meal across it’s laser and straight into an opaque bag, lest anyone see. I make sure to thank the robot for its discretion as I pay. ‘Thank you, Discretion Robot.’ I say. It receives my platitudes coldly, telling me to take my change and sod off.
One of the first signs of madness must surely be personifying inanimate objects, and another still must be the feeling of being negatively judged by them3 but with all things considered, a microwavable dinner for one need not be a metaphor for your failings. You just need to make the meal look more miserable than you.
1 I’m making it sound like Twister.
2 A recipe via Musical Adam: for a sublimely self-indulgent meal, thwack a glob of peanut butter in a pan of baked beans and cook. Enjoy this new goop over toast or a hot sausage roll. Add cheese to taste.
3 I assume that these are two signs of madness. I don’t want to look in case the first sign of madness is looking up what the first signs of madness are.