The strangest thing happened to me a few days ago. I was in a Best Buy, that store with so many blinking, hypnotic lights even the most hardcore anarcho-syndicalist could find themselves dropping a few grand on an HDTV and a satellite system. Anyway, I was perusing the videogames when I stumbled on something I didn’t think could exist. I’m saying unconscionable here. It was a fitness video game. Let me repeat that a FITNESS VIDEO GAME. The premise is as such: Mya, the fitness character, does exercises on the screen, and the player mimics them in real life. The game also offers meal planning, recipes and ‘positive re-enforcement.’
Other than the shockingly backwards logic from which this game sprang, the whole encounter reminded me of the uncomfortable relationship our nation has with food. We look to the very box responsible for our sedentary lifestyles to make us thin again. But Mya is just a symptom of a pandemic. I believe fundamental problem with diners and dining these days comes down to portion size. It is all out of whack. More and more, when I ask people about dining experiences (which I do often… the quest doesn’t finance me, so I get a lot of feedback and intel from other diners instead of draining my bank account going one place 5 times) I hear this a lot: “The food was fantastic, but I expected more for the prices.” This entire nation is gripped with portion-mania, and it is a big problem.
Portions from the Chef’s perspective: portion size is largely a nutritional and economic concern. A good chef will consider a lot of factors: calories, food cost, presentation, plating, and positioning. Remember American Psycho? Those restaurants negate the first category, but must pay attention to the last one, because they would be having 5-8 course meals. How one orders dishes is more important than you think: long meals mean that the chef has control of a diner’s consumption, which includes fat consumption, blood sugar, etc. Portion size is still key because the diner should eat everything on the plate. If there is too much, the restaurant literally throws money away. At the same time, the diner wants to feel they are receiving enough on each plate. Enter tall food and extravagant garnish. There is a system to it all, a French one, but that system is falling apart.
I blame the Buffet. I do. It is spawn of Satan. The mere fact that it no longer bothers most people that places like Golden Corral and Sweet Tomatoes are bursting at the seams with the morbidly obese like so many fattened pigs at the trough scares the fucking hell out of me. Competitive eating is now a sport. ‘All you can eat’ is now treated more like a challenge than a promise. The pasta course, traditionally no more than 400 starch calories, is typically a mammoth serving about equal to three portions. Our eyes have become permanently larger than our stomachs. Even in the land of small servings and multiple courses, the all you can eat concept has reared it’s ugly head: the ‘small plates’ phenomenon, borrowed from tapas, encourages the same kind of unchecked consumption. We’ve convinced ourselves we’re satisfied only when the plate is clean and the belt unbuckled. Anything short of that is not worth the money.