The internet, for all its endless information and entertainment, has made us bad eaters.
In the days before Google, Instagram, and Yelp, finding a good meal was more about convenience, location, and timing. The world wide web, in its vastness, does nothing but condense and filter our tastes to what appears on the first page of a search engine.
We’ve traded foot traffic for clicks, views, shares, and Top 10 lists. And as algorithms become smarter and more commercial, what once was a tool for discovery, has devolved into viral recipes and overly seasoned hype.
According to a study by ChowNow, 89% of guests research a restaurant on their phones before making a dining decision. As diners, we have become entitled to a level of access that goes far beyond the brick-and-mortar space. Now we can read reviews, analyze menus, and judge restaurants without even taking one step inside.
We have virtual food courts in the palms of our hands, capitalizing on our every craving. Many of us have discovered our palates exclusively through the lens of others— be it chefs, food critics, bloggers, and self-proclaimed “foodies.”
It’s almost as if the democratization of food has gotten us further away from the kitchen. Every restaurant, bar, and individual menu item has to be ranked and rated outside of its intrinsic, original value — nourishment. To be a “good eater,” it feels as though one must assume basic Darwinist principles and only eat from the very best a city has to offer.
In our quest for Instagram-worthy, truly memorable meals, we’re only hungry for experiences that others would crave. On one hand, the dining scene has never been more competitive.
Even within my own circles, it feels as though my peers and I are competing for a table at a select niche of restaurants. We’ve prioritized selectivity over serendipity, for every meal must be “worth it.”
But what if you could eat without any form of documentation beyond your own memory? What if you couldn’t look up the menu beforehand, scan through recent reviews, or stalk a highly-curated social media presence? What if you had nothing else to lure you in but your own appetite?
I think that most people confuse a “good eater” with the idea of someone that’s never had a bad meal. And while that may be true in some rare cases of obscene privilege, influence, and access to great cooking — a good eater isn’t defined by the quality of the food they consume, but by the way in which they eat. A good eater knows how to truly eat well.
In the words of Virginia Woolf, “A good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Only when we suffer at the hands of stale conversation and flavorless dishes, can we truly appreciate the art of eating well. As antithetical as it sounds, in order to be a good eater, you have to fall victim to a few unpleasant dishes. Eating good food is easy. It’s not hard to find the best meal in town, secure a reservation, and show up.
Eating well, on the other hand, requires persistence and an unprotesting belief that you are not owed the best that the kitchen has to offer that night. Your appetite isn’t fueled by the delusion of expectation or a challenging quest to elevate your palate, it’s driven by pure enjoyment and a desire to satisfy a basic human need — hunger.
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