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BEST EATERS, WORST EATERS

Sherlock Holmes cartoon

The best eaters are those who make a ceremony out of eating. Their aim is not to entertain other people at the table. Rather, it is to enjoy what is right under their noses.

Aristocratic dining is a case in point. There is a satisfying ease and comfort at the dining table of aristocrats. They sit down to their dinner in order to enjoy it. The presence of good company is secondary. Emily Post talks favorably about simplicity of such eaters: "Simplicity . . . means a love of the essential and of directness." Eating a good meal and enjoying it is simplicity itself.

Another case in point is monastic eating, such as dining in a Buddhist monastery. When invited to dine in a Buddhist refectory, visitors are expected to refrain from all conversation during the meal, unless addressed by the Abbot (or Abbess). During the meal, visitors are expected to follow the lead of the Abbot throughout the entire meal. This includes standing behind one's seat during the blessing; waiting for the Abbot to sit before taking one's seat; waiting for the Abbot to eat before starting to eat; and waiting for the Abbot to take a drink (usually signaled by the ringing of a bell and a short blessing) before drinking anything. At the end of the meal, the visitor should rise when the Abbot rises, whether he or she has finished the meal or not, and only continue eating if invited to do so. Normally, when the Abbot rises, the meal is ended and the prayers begin.

Gourmets, who are known for enjoying the taste of food, really pay attention to what is under their noses. At their best, they are true Sherlock Holmes dieters. When food is beautifully presented, it is not necessary to pile on more and more. The aesthetic experience of enjoying the sight, smell, and taste of food makes moderation appropriate.

Contrast these styles with the worst case, which is eating while watching television. TV watchers hardly notice what they are eating. Consequently, they eat too much. Similar to TV watchers are noisy families, where talkers interrupt one another in an effort to be heard. Emily Post understood the bad manners of people who force themselves upon others: "Nothing so blatantly proclaims a woman climber as the repetition of prominent names, the owners of which she must have struggled to know. Otherwise, why so eagerly boast of the achievement? Nobody cares whom she knows—nobody that is, but a climber like herself. To those who were born and who live, no matter how quietly, in the security of a perfectly good ledge above and away from the social ladder's rungs, the evidence of one frantically climbing and trying to vaunt her exalted position is merely ludicrous." As Holmes said in "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," "When one tries to rise above Nature, one is liable to fall below it."

The most sane approach to eating and talking is, first, to eat, and, then, to talk. The Sherlock Holmes dieter talks between courses and after dessert.

Holmes was one for keeping talk in its place. This is what he said in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter": "There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."

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