Columns, Opinion

KRANTZ: Table manners

I like farms because I like to eat. Growing organically is important for the environment, but also good farms produce good food. Eating well is not only about what you eat, but how you eat. I learned this in France, where meals are leisurely affairs, spanning one to two hours at home, and closer to three at a restaurant. Ask any Frenchman and he’ll tell you the most important part of a meal is enjoying it.

To my surprise, I found even on a farm, the French take mealtime seriously. Our weekday lunches habitually included a cheese course, and spanned into the early afternoon. Lunch began around 11:30 a.m. when we gathered up leftover vegetables and started cooking, and wrapped up around 2 p.m.

To assist, I got the bread and cheese from our farm store. Although we stocked those items to sell to customers, we usually ate it all before anyone could buy it. The customer comes first in America, but in France, enjoyment trumps profit any day.

We set the table ‘- a long wooden door propped on two sawhorses ‘- and set out the steaming pots of impromptu vegetable stew. Salad came after the main course, and the hulking guys in cut-off shirts and work boots always had second helpings of it. Cheese followed, and dessert was obligatory. Afterwards we brewed coffee, leaning our chairs back, patting our stomachs, and remarking how delicious lunch had been. Then we would talk about how much work there was to do. And drink more coffee. The only thing we didn’t do was the dishes.

Around 2 p.m., we’d gather ourselves up and head back out to the fields. I always felt sorry to return to work.

Not only in France do most farm people enjoy eating well. At the farm on Long Island in the Boston Harbor, cooks prepare the organic vegetables in the kitchen of the island’s homeless shelter. A man on the van last week told me he’s noticed how good the vegetables at lunch taste. ‘Organic!’ I said. And those guys enjoy their lunch hour as a time to take a break from work, socialize with their friends and rest.’

At college, our mealtime is at the mercy of our busy schedules, often taken while walking or in class. We eat to keep ourselves awake, to keep ourselves entertained or to de-stress. If we’re lucky, sometimes when we’re actually hungry, we have time to sit at a table and eat with friends.

I often find a book, newspaper or computer under my nose while I’m eating. I don’t notice what I’m putting into my mouth, or whether it tastes good or satisfies me. This isn’t healthy, and it’s not enjoyable. Though we don’t need two hours to eat like on the farm, we can learn from the French. Even 10 minutes can be sufficient, if you can afford a deep breath, a small break from your busyness and possibly a cheese course.

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