Food Issue

Tampon-Sized Snacks

The Hot Dog Challenge

Suckin' the Bone

It's Not You; Pass the Wine

Breakup Restaurants

Cooks and Cowboys

Sweets for the Sweet

Pizza of Death

Pim and Francie

Like a Clear Blue Flame

I Romance is the binding ingredient in all great meals, and thus great meals are by definition grand, privileged, handsome of design, and not lacking in flourish. They need not be expensive, but they must be precious.

II Contrary to popular belief, great meals are not representations of lust. In general, they are too similar to sex to lead directly to it, and in their most refined forms, they quite frankly leave sex in the dust. I have had a plate of French lentils better than the finest fellatio. Give me the choice between a well-made sausage and an attractive companion, and I will always be seduced by the sausage first.

III Food is love and drink is sex: If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to his loins is most certainly through his liver, and then out the back door of the bar and into the alley. We drink with people when we are in the early, simple, lustful stages of attraction; we have dinner with them only later, when we are willing to risk our very futures. Drinking may open up the organic possibilities of sex, but it always leaves the heart intact: You only have to remember the times you've woken up hungover next to the emotional equivalent of a coffee can full of bacon fat to realize that truth. Getting drunk with people is usually a safe thing to do. Excluding the criminal extreme of rape, generally the worst that can happen is you have sex with someone you don't think much of. On the other hand, sharing a great meal with someone is a supremely dangerous act. You might not wake up until 10 years down the road, staring at the divorce papers in your lap as your children clamor in the background.

IV The dinner table, not the bedroom, is love's natural habitat--especially as we begin the inevitable acceleration of adult life that begins... well, now.

As speed takes over, and the landscape of life starts to blur, a strange sensation begins to creep over us: "I don't have time to remember who I am." Much as we may like to think of ourselves as coherent vessels of vital philosophy, the banal truth is that most of us are simply living tissue, infinitely reactive and thus ever changing. Identity is lost as the thousands of semi-precious relationships we accumulate--at work, in grocery stores, at automotive repair facilities--begin to swirl around us, each begging the privilege of knowing who we truly are. It is only natural to lose oneself in such a crowd.

And yet, like loons, humans essentially desire monogamy. Certainly, those who are romantics at heart do. We are given far too much time on this earth to entertain just ourselves. Fortunately, most of us realize we are essentially a duality. And so, we shack up with someone we think we love, and thus begins the most arduous task of life itself: trying to keep our wits about us as we lose all control of our individuality. Of course, the very architecture of a relationship is absurd, and it is far too easy to grow skeptical. But then, one only has to imagine dying alone to remember why we act like loons. The ability to truly know another person is God's great consolation for not really existing.

V Great meals have the ability to unify every single one of the senses. They are the only form of art that has that distinction. Painting has no flavor; symphonies are odorless; and even the freshest book cannot be chewed. But great meals are art to eat and smell to the accompaniment of clinking wine glasses in rooms luminous as velvet.

VI Because great meals by definition are shared with someone else, they provide the closest approximation there is to a window on the soul. Lovers, above all else, live to dine together. The dance of commitment is consummated by the soft light of a well-oiled dinner, when the soul opens and enters the house of being.

VII Sex is essentially benign; a way for people to waste their time pleasurably. Love is always malignant, and even in those instances when it ends dreadfully, it is never a waste of time. Nevertheless, we habitually invert the hierarchy of love and sex, rushing sex onstage to steal the limelight from the more nuanced performance of love. Our bad habit too often leads us to wrongly put great meals in the service of lust. This is a grave error, for two reasons.

First, as I mentioned before, sharing food with others is a risky undertaking, to be broached only in situations of great trust. If we eat with someone primarily as a way to further the waltz of lust, we are sticking our head far too deeply into the lion's mouth. Think about it: First, awfully, you must converse. And, no matter how dull the conversation, it will open up fissures in the façade of the psyche that lead easily to the vulnerable insides. There is nothing worse than feeling understood by someone you don't respect.

Second, we know great meals are already an entirely sensual affair. They are ends in themselves. To use them as a means to sex is redundant and inevitably takes away from the meal, while not appreciably enhancing sex. Who can truly appreciate a tender leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic when his pants are full of bawdy ambitions? How can the moistness of a great steak compete with that between your legs?

VIII The purpose of a great meal is not to think about the future, but to capture the present and live there, if only for an hour. Lust tames the great meal's grandeur by emphasizing what lies ahead, rather than the moment at hand. However, this is not to say that great meals do not enhance the erotic--quite the contrary! The erotic is the province of love, just as are great meals. Because sharing a meal is about unity in the moment, we often find ourselves helplessly in love all over again by the time dessert arrives. The aftermath is more often than not erotic, and we must always thank our food, our wine, our waiters, and our credit cards for reminding us where the erotic comes from: the person across the table from us.

IX I have, throughout my life, failed the institution of monogamy numerous times. I assume, perhaps morbidly, that I will do so again. Certainly, the surprise, both personal and statistical, will be if I do not. At any rate, the question to me is not whether the cookie will crumble, nor even how it might do so. In this country, we are far too smug about the semantics of infidelity to recognize the relative meaningless of simple acts of sexual abandon. Sleaziness is humor, not horror.

A great meal--now that's another matter. I will know to cry for the shattered ideals of romance only when I share a meal with my beloved, infinite wife, and we find ourselves utterly alone, looking across the table not at the other half of who we are, but at someone eating good food. But that is very unlikely to happen: She is far too delicious.