Be quiet: I'm eating

I ate lunch at Don Pancho’s on Wednesday. I stopped in the middle of the afternoon while out on Review business, when only a few other customers occupied tables, and I ate alone. It may look odd when I eat alone at a restaurant, but dining solo upholds a long-standing personal tradition that harks back to my single days.
I married at age 32, so I was accustomed to shopping, eating, walking in the woods and visiting historical sites alone. I seem to need more solitude and quiet than the average person because those solo outings remain strong in my mind as exceptionally enjoyable. For example, I began studying the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1986 and hiked many miles of towpath, from Cuyahoga Valley National Park to Zoar, in my search for locks and other canal remnants, and memories of walking through hip-high garlic mustard, gingerly pushing my way through brambles and crossing the antique iron bridge near Zoar remain vivid. During those single years I ate at Taco Bell on payday while out shopping alone, and I enjoyed reading a music newspaper that I picked up while out, so my Don Pancho’s dining is nothing new.
Why do I enjoy dining alone? First, although eating a meal with a friend can be enjoyable, such as a recent lunch with retired Review Editor Mike Patterson, I don’t truly taste the food as I do when I eat alone. Diet books and articles emphasize the need to pay attention to what you eat — don’t read, watch television or walk around the room while you eat, they say, but none mention eating and talking.  I’m not big on eating and talking despite sociologists’ advice that families should eat together. Maybe they could eat together but not talk. To fully taste and appreciate food, I must eat, and only eat, although I’ve long been guilty of reading and eating.
Second, eating holds strong psychological and emotional significance for people and is more than just a physical necessity, so it’s no surprise that food accompanies almost every social gathering, but I find it curious that we combine eating with talking when we need our mouths for both. We’re taught from childhood, although I know plenty of adults who ignore this rule, that we shouldn’t talk while eating. It takes discipline to control yourself and not answer when you are eating, and a book from the early 1900s that offers guidelines on etiquette and business correspondence recommends taking small bites so you can quickly respond to a fellow diner.
Third, and I thought I was the only person who felt this way until a friend said he knew someone who refused to talk while eating, I believe that eating is a meditative act. Because eating holds strong psychological and social significance, it approaches a religious experience, and a quiet mind while eating strengthens the spirit. Maintaining silence during a meal, besides helping me to pay attention to the taste of food, calms my mind. But then again so does silence in general. That can lead me to another topic altogether, the underappreciated importance of silence, a value that is left in the dust in our expressway-speed, amplified society, but I won’t get started on that discussion.
Perhaps I appeared odd at my solo meal, but I wasn’t worried about it. I enjoyed the time to ponder the day, study the bright Mexican decorations and taste my food. And now I’ll shut up.

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