On a recent double date at the Italian restaurant Aurora, my good friend suggested that we all share a pasta course between the appetizers and entrees. I told her I liked the way she was thinking, since I was, as usual, at a loss to narrow down the choices on the menu. But her boyfriend piped up in alarmed opposition. “What? We’re sharing?”
She explained the idea, but he just shook his head and announced a strict policy that she was no doubt already aware of: “I don’t like to share food.” We accepted this—my boyfriend even revealed that he doesn’t like to share “that much,” which was news to me—but when the entrees arrived, the anti-sharer took one bite of his pappardelle with veal cheeks and made the face one makes after sampling bad milk or inhaling deeply of the Canal street train station. “They’re really soft” he said, sickened.
Forgetting his sharing policy, or assuming this was a situation that surely warranted an exception to it, my boyfriend offered him a piece of steak, which was sliced before it arrived at the table. But the anti-sharer reminded him, politely, of his rule. “But, you don’t like what’s on your plate,” I said. “I’ll get through it,” he responded. My instinct was to try to make everyone happy, to offer him my seafood stew, to transform into the perfect pushy mom. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded tasting those cheeks, upsetting as it may be to picture them in happier times. But I know there’s no changing an anti-sharer, so I let him suffer through his pasta.
Being an anti-sharer is distinct from being unable to share at all. Generally, we think of people who can’t share as being selfish, but while there can be an element of selfishness in not sharing food, it’s more complicated than that—not only does my friend’s boyfriend not want me to taste his pasta (whether he is enjoying it or not), he doesn’t want to eat off my plate (regardless of whether the dish appeals to him). It’s not simply pickiness, either—that theory was chucked as soon as the veal cheeks were chosen over a simple ragu. Are they germaphobes? Loners? Anarchists?
For a more informed hypothesis, I contacted psychoanalyst Louise Fay, who said there are many reasons people might hate eating “family style.” For example: “They lose their control, their individuality, they are controlled by others. For some who come from big families, it may stir up a fear they won’t get enough—with their own order they have theirs and no one can touch it, they don’t have to share. For some it may feel low class.” She added that the identity problems that come into play are generally more common among men. These insights inspired in me a newfound pity for anti-sharers, especially since communal dining has become so chic. When I asked my friend whether she thought any of these theories might apply to her man, she pondered it for a moment, and then said, “I think he just thinks it’s kind of gross.”
On the other hand, sharing is probably the only restaurant trend that actually makes sense to me. I cringe when everyone orders the same dish. Still, I’m not sold on the small plate movement. At places like Share, in the East Village, and Sumile, in the West, they usually make for an expensive, skimpy dinner. A better approach is to avoid the middle ground and go to places with huge portions, so everyone can have a substantial taste of a few things, or multiple tiny plates (i.e. dim sum, tapas), where everyone can have a small taste of many things. And for sharing enthusiasts, interactive eating rituals are the orgies of the dining world (Korean BBQ, Shabu-Shabu). Just make sure to psychologically evaluate your party in advance.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 6, 2005