At Anneke’s party, my new friend Marilyn and I have found two fortuitous seats on the sofa. Just a few inches in front of us, the coffee table bravely bears the weight of several platters of hors d’oeuvres – an intense cheese plate piled high with my favorite cranberry-studded Stilton, chips and guacamole, a bowl of gorgeous strawberries, and a plate of shrimp-and-corn fritters. More amazing food smells waft out of the kitchen as the oven warms its contents. When the entrees are ready, Anneke brings me a plate. To her credit, the food is admirably piled; it’s easy for me to tell where one food ends and another begins. I can’t identify the foods by sight, so I don’t know that the dark colored stuff is chicken and rice until I taste it. However, once I’ve taken a cursory trip around the plate with my fork, I can identify each food and remember its location – no small feat since I’m notoriously bad at geography.
Making my way through the generous portion Anneke has doled out, I encounter potato salad, rosemary bread, some sort of hot cheesy dish with veggies, a garden salad, and the aforementioned chicken and rice. Each of these items disappears with surprising swiftness, until only the chicken and rice remains. I spear a piece of chicken with my fork and put it in my mouth.
I discover belatedly (once the chicken is in my mouth) that this piece contains a large bone. I begin to conduct a series of awkward tongue maneuvers, trying to pry the meat away and shuffle the bone to one side of my mouth. Eventually, I manage to do this, and I discreetly (I hope!) pull the bone out of my mouth and place it on the edge of my plate.
Because I consider myself an enthusiastic foodie and adventurous cook, I am often surprised by the flavor of new foods. Because I have low vision, I am often surprised by food in a totally different way. Unexpected textures, unforeseen bones, and decorative lemon wedges have found their way to my mouth many times. I have often mistaken the leafy garnish on the side of the plate for a far-reaching component of the salad. Because I rarely think to use garnish, it doesn’t occur to me – during the spontaneous act of food identification – that other cooks employ it.
Obviously these occasional embarrassments don’t keep me away from food for too long. When someone at the table spills a drink or salts their coffee by mistake, I am gratified in the levelness of the playing field.
One food stands alone as the unequivocal nuisance.
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy salads, tacos, lettuce wraps – many things that use lettuce in all its incarnations. But lettuce is a giant pain because it foils the laws of physics that aid the nonvisual diner.
When I lift a spoonful of soup, a forkful of rice, or a wedge of pita filled with hummus to my mouth, the act of lifting serves two purposes. Obviously, this action facilitates the food’s travel from its place on my plate. Also, the act of lifting the food in my hand allows me to weigh it and make judgements about the size of the bite I’m preparing to enjoy. Whether the imminent portion is handheld or borne on a piece of cutlery, I can estimate its size, density, and relative messiness.
Lettuce defies these rules of physics! It dangles off the fork in irritating ways, and its lightness makes it impossible for me to judge the quantity I’m dealing with. Many times, I’ve taken what I thought was a small, modest bite of salad – only to discover, as the damp lettuce bats my cheek and brushes against my mouth, that I was deceived by the greens! In these cases, I am forced to put the fork down, hurriedly dab at my dressing-speckled face with a napkin, and hope that no one has seen my slovenly descent into ineptitude.
I try to counteract this lettuce deception by obsessively cutting my salads when they arrive. If someone sets a salad before me, I will attack it with vigor, hoping to shred all the offending green into manageable, bite-sized pieces. In this way, I hope to prevent the embarrassing bite of inestimable proportions, the splashing of dressing, the awkwardness that comes with having a bite halfway in your mouth before you realize it really won’t fit.
A similar wildness comes with the eating of linguini (or any long pasta) in red sauce – not because I can’t tell how much I’ve got on my fork, but because the noodles like to swing about and send little red droplets everywhere.
Perhaps this is why I love parties and their finger foods, sandwiches, purees, and other considerate foods – edibles that don’t fight back!