With the pandemic waves influencing the opening and closing of restaurants, it’s no wonder that people go a little crazy eating out when everything has opened up again. Getting out means eating out. Probably this is a terrible time to publish bad news about it. Or else . . . it’s the right time exactly.
As my mother explained to me (are you tired of hearing about my mother? Well, she was the Influencer of my early days, what can I do), going out to eat was for celebrating special occasions only. The only people who should make a habit of it were poor bachelors who didn’t know how to cook for themselves. A somewhat sexist comment, to be sure, but I heard and held onto that view for quite a while afterwards.
The title of this post is probably going to put a lot of readers on the defensive immediately. Because who doesn’t love eating out? Just how many pleasures can a person be expected to give up in the name of threatening future scenarios?
It’s okay. There are culinary traditions that need to be kept alive, and the people behind them—the owners, cooks, and servers—depend on their patrons to keep going. You can assume the role of restaurant supporter. I’ve written down the ten reasons I don’t eat out much as ideas and facts to consider, or even be inspired by. If you can get past these top ten objections to eating out, you can be a supporter. Go eat!
One. Getting there is hard. Probably you’ll take a car, and have to put up with what that means. Fighting traffic. Stinking up the air with CO2 exhaust. Risking a road-rage encounter or accident. Dealing with all the aspects of driving that drove Terry mad, which he wrote about in Post 33. If you’re in a place like L.A. you might spend an hour getting to that one place where you really love the food—but you’ll still have to drive around looking for a parking place for another half hour or so. Urban driving is mostly waiting. Well, maybe that can be a kind of preparation for the waiting that’s still to come (see reason #6).
Two. Your options are limited. The purpose of a menu is to restrict your choices. No establishment can offer the vast range of dishes you could make at home. Is your diet on the menu? Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, a gluten abstainer, or just trying to cut down on carbs, your needs will automatically eliminate many or most of the offerings listed. And if you have serious food allergies—well, people die from eating out. It’s not as common as just having a bad reaction, but deaths are on the rise.
Three. You won’t know the ingredients. When you shop for produce, you tend to know what you’re getting—hopefully not pesticides on the organics. Even with processed foods you can read the ingredients, including the amount of fat, sugar, sodium, protein, calories, etc. Restaurant menus will mention the primary elements of their dishes, but we don’t know everything we’re eating. And how fresh is the food? At home you can pick something from your garden or trees and be eating it an hour later. Taste that derives from true freshness is beyond taste that comes from a sauce or seasoning. No eatery can compare with that.
When I was in college, a classmate introduced me to fresh mushrooms. My family had always eaten canned. I couldn’t believe the flavor difference. Next I got enlightened about spinach. I never did benefit from Popeye plugging it—what I needed was a fresh spinach salad instead of the boiled mush a can.
Once, just once, I caught a furtive act in a restaurant kitchen. My table was next to a door that, when open, offered a view of the action behind the scenes. I looked up at just the right time to see a worker drop something on the floor, bend down to pick it up, and quickly throw it back into a pot on the stove. I’m not saying this happens a lot. But, knowing a couple people in the biz, I’ve heard how rushed things can get in food prep. Haste makes waste, and also causes accidents the boss doesn’t need to know about.
Four. Morality of food. We can forge our own food morality at home, but not if we eat out. There could be wasteful practices and unknown origins of ingredients. Political not fair trade, no attention to sources. They may serve you on throwaway dishes to save washing.
Five. You’ll have gigantic portions. The diner is faced with an impossible three-way choice. 1) Eat all of it, and suffer the pains of a bloated stomach. 2) Leave the excess on the plate, doing your part to contribute to food waste. 3) Ask for a doggie bag and take it home. Will the container be Styrofoam, or a plastic clamshell? The packaging will probably become garbage. Hopefully the food will get eaten—maybe even microwaved and appreciated— but it may not be the same, or it may get forgotten in the fridge and grow mold.
Six. So much waiting. Lots of waiting is involved in eating out. First there’s the waiting at stoplights, as I mentioned. Then, upon arriving, you may have to wait for a table. (Once I waited over an hour—I was with a group and couldn’t leave. It pissed me off.) Then there’s the waiting for everyone to read the menus and place the orders. After that, there’s waiting for the food to arrive, then waiting for everyone to finish, and then waiting for the bill. You have a lot to do at home. If only you’d brought something for your hands to do under the table . . . but that time is usually lost.
Seven. Eating out is a social default. In my experience, wanting to get together with friends usually means going out to eat. It takes creativity and conscious effort to break away from this pattern. In older societies, socializing sometimes meant coming together to accomplish a task—sewing, spinning, husking corn, hauling loads, building or plastering, harvesting or winnowing grain. I’ve found it difficult to organize my socializing around work, though the three work parties I put together around building my backyard casita went okay. (With a work party, you provide food and drink.) These days I sometimes propose a walk or hike instead of eating out. I feel a lot better after a good walk than I do after eating a big meal and sitting for an hour or two—not just afterwards, but over time.
Eight. That high cost. It’s usually more expensive to eat out than to eat in. For special occasions, maybe it’s worth it. As a regular practice, the extra expenses could add up to a budget drain.
Nine. Food waste. Besides any waste created by the restaurant’s processes, eating out can be personally wasteful. How many times have you gone out to eat when food in your own refrigerator needs to be eaten? Eating out can alienate you from your own food stash, not to mention your garden. Food gets mold and spoils, gardens go to seed and die.
It’s too bad takeout creates so much garbage. Pizza is probably the least offensive in this regard. Cardboard tends to be truly recyclable—although I was incredulous to find out that even that spot of grease on the inside of the cover makes it trash.
Hopefully your driver has minimized their mileage.
Ten. Taste. Your own cooking tastes better, right? If not, then maybe all that time you spend waiting for your order to arrive or for your friends to finish eating would be better spent learning how to cook.
Sorry—I don’t mean to be sarcastic or cruel. But there’s no way, once you’ve perfected a favorite dish, that someone else can make it better than you do. I like to start with something that’s growing in the garden or elsewhere in the landscape and build a dish around it. No cook or chef can compete with that fresh taste, developed by you.
Some closing thoughts:
Eating someone else’s cooking all the time makes you dependent. When you’re in the mood for a burrito, you think of the delicious burritos they make in that Mexican place. Or if you’re craving a curry dish, you immediately remember that chole masala you had at the Indian restaurant on the east side. The moo shu pancake thing at the Chinese restaurant is something you have to buy there—you don’t know how to make anything Asian, certainly not that delicious wrap. Pretty soon you have to have a car, and gas, and the fortitude to endure roaring motorcycles and sirens and hostile honking. The sun is in your eyes, making it impossible to see, and you feel unsafe—but have to keep moving. Soon you start to believe that tasty food always has to be made by someone else.
Maybe your chef won’t give you the recipe, but it’s likely on the Internet. If cooking seems daunting because of the time it takes, consider again the time it takes to eat out. Consider also whether you’re building dependence or independence, losing or gaining confidence. When the shit hits the fan in terms of unaffordable prices, another café-closing pandemic, or some disaster nobody’s yet imagined, will you panic or feel sure you can make it? This post is mostly off the top of my head and from experience. It’s probably incomplete in various ways. Hope it was worth your read. Let me know, please! It’s yet another area of life where you can see how what’s good for the earth in general is also good for individuals and families.