Sunday, November 05, 2006

Just One

The bounty at the farmers market can sometimes be overwhelming: Mountains of greens, tumbling heads of lettuce, heaps of avocados. A veritable horn of plenty offered by our local farmers. I love it: A pocketful of bills and a few spare grocery bags can turn into a weeks worth of vegetables, an awesomely local and healthy meal, a celebration of the labors and talents of our local small farms.
Last Saturday I was purchasing heads of ruffley lettuce from Honopua Farms when I witnessed the following transaction:
Ron: All the lettuce is 2.50 per pound.
Shopper hands Ron one head of lettuce and $2.50.
Ron: Oh no, that is too much. It's 2.50 per pound...
Shopper: But it's only me.
Ron: One head of lettuce is only like 50 cents...
Shopper: But it's only me...

It was sad to me that this shopper felt she should almost apologize for cooking only for herself, should almost have to pay the per pound rate yet only take one small head of lettuce. Like feeding yourself well, like only buying what you need, is somehow not acceptable. I think we are constantly encouraged towards overbuying in huge quantities. Costco and package stores convince us we need massive amounts of things, food is in huge portions or super-sized, and a lone diner is not expected to treat themselves well.
My biggest pet peeve in restaurants occurs when I walk in the door, unaccompanied by a date, husband, or family, and am stared up and down by the hostess. With a sneer, she asks, "JUST One?" I feel immediately judged, like I must be such a loser to come in alone, dateless. Or that I must be some sort of glutton who will sit at a table, pig out, and leave the waiter with a reduced income at a "wasted" table. None of this is true, of course. I very often dine alone because I enjoy it. I don't have to make conversation, I don't have to abide dining companions who want to "help" me with my criticism, and I don't have to shell out cash to lug along a date just so the hostess won't give me that look. (I also go to movies alone).
As a point of advice: Hosts can still do their job, greet a customer, and find out about a reservation without being so judgmental. The problem lies solely in the use of the word, "Just". That small qualifier doles out the judgment! Instead, I offer, "One for dinner?" and the always useful, "Is there a reservation I can check in?" Both statements find out information and acknowledge the customer, without the accompanying judgment.
Incidentally, as a single diner, I tend to tip my waiter more, because I am aware that a single diner may not yield as much income as a table with more diners (of course, I often order the monetary equivalent of multiple diners...). And I know that in all the fine dining establishment in which I have worked, the single diner is treated with extra care: Often their entrees are hurried, or more staff make an effort to stop by and chat. All of this is appreciated.
Perhaps the problem here is loneliness. As singles (and re-singles), we often feel the glances full of pity or judgment when we do things alone. Or we feel the need to explain ourselves, "No really, I'm not sad and dateless, I'm here alone by choice, and dammit I only need one tiny head of lettuce! And I have people in my life who love me! Really!"
Sadly, it is more acceptable to drown loneliness by over-indulging. That same host would probably totally get it if I stayed home alone and fed my emotional loneliness with a costco sized tub of iced cream while perched in front of the television. But no!
Singles Everywhere! You are worth a dinner out! You are worth going to see the movie YOU want to see! And you don't have to over-buy out of guilt or explanation! Look at all the money and cupboard space we can save: Raise your tiny single-serving lettuce heads in pride!

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