Back in the day, fancy ladies would often eat in their private apartments before coming down to dinner. That way they could be seen by everyone to eat like a bird.
Er, maybe a dainty bird.
As far as I know, that practice has generally fallen out of fashion – but the more I think about it, the more I think the birdy ladies were on to something.
Eating is a problem, you see. If we ate purely out of instinct in order to survive, then it wouldn’t be a big deal – we might have to worry about how much we ate, or the quality of the food, or even manners if we were eating in the presence of other people, but all of those things are pretty easy to manage. That's not how we eat, though: We’re human and social and (supposedly) civilized, and a lot of our civilized socializing happens while we eat -- which is a problem. Hunger has this way of bringing out everything that is uncivilized and anti-social in people, so if we go to dinner hungry, then will be great at eating but probably lousy at the other stuff.
Take me, for instance. I am always charming and interesting and a perfect joy to be around. However, when I’m hungry, my family and travel companions like to pretend that I become less charming and interesting and pleasant to be around. It seems improbable, I know, but since I care, I listen.
Recently, I’ve started conscientiously eating before dinner (or lunch or brunch or whatever). Whenever I have a meal planned with someone else, I eat something small ahead of time so that I go into the meal happy and barely hungry instead of starving and completely misanthropic. It makes dining out so much more pleasant – I can focus on the people I’m dining with instead of my raging headache and why I hate everyone so much. Plus, it frees me up to eat smaller portions and lighter fare, which may not be the path to muscle super-stardom but surely can’t be bad when I spend as much time as I do in front of a computer.So, whatever you may have heard as a kid about “ruining your dinner” by eating beforehand, just remember that sometimes “ruining your dinner” might just make it all the better.
(In fact, it works so well that I've started doing it even when I'm eating alone: I'll eat something quick right when I get home from work so that I enjoy the process of making a proper dinner.)