Food has always been a central part of festivities. Sometimes not so much, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else.
I now take for granted that you who read this are not only interested in food. Strictly speaking there is no need for a party to enjoy food. Just go to a restaurant, or prepare something delicious at home.
Let’s look at food as one of several party elements.
You might ask, what other elements are there? The following are classical.
- The free circulation of guests. This can be called mingling, chatting, small talk, etc. The guests are free to do what they will (within boundaries permitted by the host).
- A program of some sort. This can be games, charades, music or maybe reading. These are the classical salon elements (but of course one need not hold a salon in order to have a program).
More aspects can be listed but at the moment let’s only look at these three: Food, mingling, program.
A very important thing to consider is readiness.
After you have been chatting with some old or new friends, you are probably ready right away to listen to some singing, or to eat some food.
After having listened to some music or poetry reading — and after respectfully having let the angel that follows poetic energies to tiptoe through the room — you are right away ready for small talk, or food.
Symmetry, so far.
It’s different with food. After having eaten a meal, especially a somewhat (or very) heavy meal, you are NOT ready for other things. Small talk, yes. That happens all the time at dinner tables, although the level of conversation is certainly influenced (for better or worse) by food and not least drink.
So food and small talk, let’s call it mental circulation, can be legitimate bedfellows.
Food and program however have a problematic relationship.
Imagine that you have hardly finished the great dinner when your well-meaning host says: “And now, after this fantastic Tournedos à la Stockhausen and those stuffed birds à la Verdi we will listen to some… Verdi! Performed by our lovely soprano miss Dalila and her pianist Samson. Please, quite everybody, the music begins in softness…”
Excuse me!? You have hardly picked your teeth after that Epicurean treat, and you wanted to continue your conversation about atomic physics and lap-dancing with that fabulous new friend.. and now you are supposed to just shut up and get into an… operatic mood??
As I say, the host can be very well-meaning here, offering not just food for belly but also food for heart. So far, so good.
But there is an extra element to consider when it comes to food. After a meal we are NOT right away prepared to do something else, especially not concentrate.
Food and drink makes people relaxed, so don’t ask your guests to tense up and be “cultural” right after a meal. We are moving into centrifugal, not centripetal mode.
Before is just great, but not after. Leave some time for that element which moves slower with physical food than with music or chat: DIGESTION.
Digesting food takes time, and during that time other activities are going to compete with the belly. In that match, the belly usually wins. So don’t challenge it but give it time. Food and eating casts a shadow that must be taken into account.
I recall an relevant incident that demonstrating this. Systembolaget in Sweden was celebrating something at hip Café Opera and they had invited a truly star celebrity to entertain: Burt Bacharach. I wasn’t there but read in the paper the next day that Bacharach was angry. Why? Because he had come all the way from the States and people didn’t listen when he played and sang…
I think I know what happened. Imagine this huge place, this palace of mingling that Café Opera is. As people mingle they of course drink alcohol and eat peanuts (maybe snort something as well). And the more we mingle the more relaxed and free-wheeling we become, the less we want to be restricted.
Sure, it’s great to have Burt Bacharach on stage, but when we have started to mingle we are not going to be silent and just LISTEN. We were silent when we arrived and as to volume at Café Opera, the only way is UP.
The arrangers, I am sure, did the mistake of having Burt too late in the evening. In the beginning it would have been great, but later he had too much competition.
An example from my personal experience. I was invited by some cultured ladies to be part of a salon in Skåne. They had invited around 30 people, had a grand piano and I was supposed to give a small, light-hearted talk and play some high quality salon music. (The only kind I play)
When I arrived the ladies briefed me: First we will have a glass of wine, as a gesture of welcome. Then after a while the dinner, and then your program.
No way, I said. If I play after dinner 1) I will turn into an after-dinner entertainer, a strange dessert helping (or thwarting) the digestive processes and 2) since the concentration of the guests will be diminished by the “food shadow” they will not get much enjoyment out of the music and my somewhat thought-demanding little lecture.
So I will play and talk BEFORE dinner, not after.
The ladies understood the logic and changed the order of the evening. Thus a good time was had by all.
End of epistle food, I mean four.