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Eating your own way

Manners as a social construct

Food editor Ames Radwan has always been a messy eater!
Food editor Ames Radwan has always been a messy eater!

In elementary school, like any kid, I always looked forward to getting home on Friday nights. Unlike the other kids, though, I wasn’t just excited for the weekend — I was excited for my dad to get home from work on Friday.

You see, his office would supply Panera goodies — bagels, pastries and the like — for the entire department on Friday mornings. And if there were any left over at the end of the day, my dad would always wrap one specific treat in a brown paper napkin and transport it an hour home just for me: a chocolate chip Muffie.

For those of you who have never had a Muffie, they’re literally just muffin tops, but they are SO good. My dad arriving home with one on Friday night always boded for a great Saturday morning for me, because I’d get to sit at the kitchen counter and eat it for breakfast.

After a while, though, I stopped eating Muffies. This was partially because my dad’s office stopped supplying them, but also partially because the way I liked to eat them wasn’t considered polite, proper or neat.

Most people just bite into a muffin, but I always liked to get my fingers in there. I’d rip the Muffies into tiny shreds, eating the fluffy golden bready parts while picking out each individual chocolate chip and setting them off to the side. Then, at the end, when the muffin part was all gone, I’d take the pile of chocolate chips, squish them into a lump, and eat them all at once.

In my defense, I was a kid — but why should I need a defense at all? It was fun, I was enjoying the food even more than I would have if I’d just been taking big bites, it kept me from being a pain underfoot and it wasn’t hurting anyone. If manners were the concern, why? I was eating in the comfort of my own home. 

I’ve always been a bit of a strange eater. My bites are either tiny or gigantic. I prefer to rip bread products, such as sandwiches or Muffies, apart instead of biting straight into them. Neat eating was not a concept in my vocabulary for pretty much all of childhood — my parents used to wonder aloud at the dinner table how I’d ever get a date if I ever ate like “that” in public, getting pasta sauce all over the table. To this day, I feel a rush of embarrassment every time my place setting is the messiest of everyone’s after a good meal.

And don’t get me wrong — I certainly understand the need for some manners. Chewing with your mouth closed, for instance? If it is literally affecting everyone around you, then all right, maybe you should try to be polite to your fellow diners. 

But then again, remember that your culture may be different from someone else’s. In some cultures, chewing with your mouth open or slurping your soup may be considered polite or complimentary to the chef. 

Everyone eats differently. That’s the whole point of eating — it’s like life itself. If everyone lived life the exact same way, it would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? And if everyone ate food the exact same way — or, god forbid, ate the same food — wouldn’t food lose most if not all of the joy it brings to millions and millions of people worldwide?

So let people eat the way they want, as long as it’s not hurting others.

I don't do it, personally, but let people eat pizza with a fork and knife if they want to.

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Let me rip apart my grilled cheeses (crust first, of course, leaving the gooey inside for last). Let me eat the corners off of my chocolate squares before I tackle the middle. Let me pick the chocolate chips out of my muffins.

This past weekend, I had a chocolate chip muffin for the first time in a very long time. In recent years, I've tended to avoid them to avoid wanting to eat them in my favored “impolite” manner. 

This muffin was my only breakfast option, however, so I took it and I ate it and I enjoyed it.

I did rip it into small pieces instead of biting into it — I don’t know why, but biting into muffins still gives me the heebie-jeebies. But I managed to not pick out any of the chocolate chips, to at least avoid that, since I was in public. 

At the end, though, there was one lone chocolate chip left in the wrapper when I finished. It had fallen out of its own accord. And as I picked it up and popped it into my mouth, met with the lone sweetness instead of the breadier, slightly more savory flavor that the actual muffin part of a muffin tends to bring, I was reminded of those Saturday mornings of my childhood. 

Those Saturday mornings when picking out my chocolate chips was just a fun kid activity, and I didn’t have to worry about manners or being polite or what other people would think of me if I got chocolate all over my fingers. 

In college, food can become a thing you need rather than a thing you want. I know I’ve had days when I make myself eat because I know I’ll forget otherwise. Where is the fun in eating nowadays? Where is our childlike enjoyment in our mealtimes?

So let’s bring the fun back into food again.