I hate sharing food.
Learning to share dishes even with my wife, with whom I share a home, a bed, laughter, tears, and horrible opinions about strangers at the grocery store, has been difficult. If you get me out in a group, I start to sweat when someone says, "Do you guys want to share a bunch of things?" (And somebody always says that.) Even in restaurants that haven't built their menus around the group experience (read this piece by Jay Porter to learn why more restaurants are doing it), there is a norm of sharing. It’s fun! It’s social!
It’s maddening, is what it is.
At times over the past 15 years I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian, a vegan, and most recently, a pescetarian, a word that makes my teeth itch but is nonetheless useful. Part of my aversion to sharing dishes now is residual anxiety from years of watching the meat-free options disappear before I could get to them or they to me. Not everyone eats animals, but everybody eats the fried cauliflower with romesco. Everybody.
I have friends who are sensitive to this imbalance (I live in the Bay Area, where we are nothing if not sensitive), but a pernicious, unavoidable arithmetic takes over in a group, and the veg dishes go faster than the meat ones. So I sit and watch people pass around the Mongolian long beans and think, "Get your pork-greased fingers out of my dinner.”
It goes deeper than math, though. I’m the only child of a single parent, so when I was a kid, meals required very little sharing. This didn’t just apply to food. I had my toys to myself, my books to myself. I had my time to myself. The (ultimately temporary) addition of a stepfamily to our household did little to adjust my programming in this respect. I was and remain a poor sharer.
Plus, I grew up in a casual dining culture where people ordered large plates of food for themselves and didn’t worry about anybody else. I still prefer it this way. You don’t need to offer me a bite of your food; if I’d wanted to eat that, I would have ordered it. I understand you’re being nice and that I’m the broken one. Please don’t be offended when I reply noncommittally, “Maybe in a minute,” and never move in with my fork. Then there is the animal part of me that will forever regard eating as hunger abatement, not social bonding. I'm no better than Joey from Friends, and as everybody who tries to steal Joey’s fries ends up learning, Joey doesn’t share food.
I do go out with people whose company I enjoy, and I try to keep my cantankerousness contained, limiting its expression to my darting rodent eyes. I’ve learned to sit back and let other people do most of the ordering, interjecting the occasional, “And one more avocado and beet salad?” to help balance the veg-meat math.
But if small-plates menus are our future, for all the good reasons Jay Porter lays out, I’m going to need some kind of prescription.
Brock Winstead lives in Oakland, California. His blog is pretty cool.