The first thing I did upon arriving at the hotel room for the evening (after showering) was to prep for tomorrow. Make sure my pack is ready, the ropes are bagged, and food and water are restocked. My lunchbox contains a small summer sausage, half a block of cheese, a pound of baby carrots, some raw red peppers, two apples and two granola bars. Two 1 liter nalgene bottles of tap water and a 3 liter camelbak complete the nutritional requirements of yours truly for a full day of hiking, climbing and miscellaneous such frivolities.
For supper this evening I am eating a half a loaf of bread with cheese and banana peppers on it, and a block of ham weighing about a pound. I am hungry as all get out, and they are absolutely delicious. They also have the advantage of requiring next to no preparation at all. I microwaved the bread and bought the ham ready to eat. I just cut a chunk off with my pocket knife and there we are. I don't even have a plate in the hotel room so I set the ham on top of the bread to keep it off the table. For drink I have a one liter nalgene bottle of tap water (Boulder is such a trendy little town, I'm pretty sure the water is organic.) I can eat and type, listen to music, chat, read, do anything I want. There is no one in the world to consult in the matter except myself.
But it occurred to me as I was going through the minimal preparations for eating, that this is rather a barbaric way to live, no matter how much Handel I listen to while I eat. Forget utensils, forget dishes, tablecloths, place settings, even a dining room. I am eating at the hotel room computer desk. Are any of those things necessary? No. Certainly not. I can enjoy them with the best when they are available, but right now I am in hunter-gatherer mode.
But I feel like there is something missing in the hunter-gatherer approach. I wouldn't even really call that a meal. Most of the time I eat when I get the chance, and don't eat when I don't get the chance. No regular meal times. That is understandable in the field, but it bleeds over into the rest of my life. On a weekend there is no particular reason why I shouldn't eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, instead of just grabbing whatever is convenient. There is no reason why I shouldn't cook something good, instead of eating raw fruits and vegetables and pre-cooked meats. (Which are a better choice for food-on-the-go than some other things, but still...)
What I find when I think about it is that I have reduced eating to a matter of caloric intake. I need energy to fuel the machine so I take in energy. I have to function at a fairly high level physically so I make sure that at least most of the food I take in is not garbage. It keeps me alive and healthy, but in walking from the refrigerator to the computer desk I got the feeling that something was missing. I remember when I was kid fuming and muttering under breath at being made to set the table, talking back to my Mom about which side the knife and the fork should go on, asking why we had to use the good glasses which were so much more bother. Wouldn't plastic do just as well? Why not just use paper plates?
It's ironic. My mother learned (whether she liked it or not) that you just can't have nice things with a house full of kids. Plates and cups will get broken, silver will get lost, and most of the time there just isn't time to do things the fancy way. Nowadays, although she can maintain the nice, matching dinnerware that was an inevitable casualty in our younger days, she is as likely to go casual as I am. But I have learned something as well. It was undoubtedly a woman who invented dinnerware and tablecloths, placemats and napkins, and all the other accoutrements of fine dining, and there is a value in these things that is not readily apparent to me, but real nonetheless.
Taken altogether these "extras" have a message. They take eating and raise it from the realm of refueling, and make it into something special. To put it another way, they recognize and make visible the specialness that is inherent in the act of eating. These things turn a biological necessity into a ritual, which can become a means of bringing about relationship. They raise it from the level of animal need, to the level of human community. This is undoubtedly the biggest reason why I neglect all of them most of the time. They just don't make sense when you are eating alone. This is the same reason why I never make pizza for myself. It just doesn't make sense. If I want pizza for myself I'll order it. But for my friends and family? I'll spend an entire day preparing a meal that will be eaten and gone in a few hours, because they are worth it. The meal becomes a means to something greater.
Eating alone is only half of what it should be. It is a lame, crippled thing. Eating should be shared. It should be special. It is worth time and effort to make it so.
So if you have the ability, eat with your family. Prepare food for them, or cook it together with them. Add in some music or a good movie. Take whatever time it takes and consider it time well spent.
If you don't have that opportunity and you must eat alone, realize that you are never alone. Eat with God. Take the time to thank Him for the food He has given you, and share the meal with Him. He longs to share it with you.