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Articles & Essays

"Men and women may disagree on sharing food"

Published 06/02/13
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
A recent segment of "The Daily Show" led The Hub and me to a discussion about the nature of man.
Our discussion wasn't about politics or that the globe in the show's opening is spinning the wrong way (we have examined that issue in the past). We became enmeshed in a consideration of sharing food.
Humorist and Raleigh native David Sedaris (who is looking more and more like he ought to be a character on "Mad Men") was a guest. He said he knew that two men he saw in a restaurant were gay because they were sharing a dessert. Sedaris contended that two straight men wouldn't share anything but a plate of hot wings, never dessert.
It's hard for me to judge the validity of his theory, since I frequently dine with food fans of all persuasions. Not sharing the dessert - and everything else in the meal - would be considered a hoggish faux pas. 
The first time I attended a conference of the Association of Food Journalists, a nationwide organization of food editors and writers, my five dinner companions and I coordinated our orders, then passed our entire plates around. Before the appetizers arrived, someone called "clockwise" to determine the rotation. There was no lingering on something you liked. Plates had to keep moving at decent intervals, like speed dating.
The Hub is no slouch in his appreciation of food, and will delightedly share with me. We have refined our sharing technique, carving out representative samples of our dishes and using our bread plates to pass them to each other. Some servers gasp at our sauce-smeared bread plates and try to take them away, but I just grab on and hold.
We can share dessert, but often we're interested in different ones and have difficulty compromising. It's a longstanding joke that The Hub will seriously consider anything with apples in it (so does his brother; it must be in the family DNA). My tastes roam. That lemongrass panna cotta with toasted pumpkin seed-five spice topping might actually be good, and there's only one way to find out.
I have no problem leaving half of a dessert behind. Really, I can do it. If absolutely necessary. And if it doesn't involve dark chocolate or any kind of ice cream.
Another reason that I can't adequately evaluate Sedaris' dessert-based gaydar is that I am a woman. Women always share dessert when dining in packs, which we often do. Even if we secretly want to eat the whole thing ourselves.
"One slice of the turtle cheesecake and 10 forks, please," we say. 
(My sister-in-law practically never orders dessert, just holds her fork at the ready for a bite of everyone else's, another perennial family joke.)
If one's share won't be any larger than a Barbie's Dream Kitchen coffee cup, why not just pass up dessert? That would create an air of holier-than-thou self-denial that the rest of the group might resent. They'd think: "Who does she think she is? Not even one li'l ol' bite of that key lime pie? She must think we're pigs!"
And eat all of your own dessert yourself, with only your one lone fork? That would be like kissing your much younger second husband in front of your book club - just showing off.
To get a broader perspective on the issue, I asked some of my AFJ colleagues what they thought about Sedaris' theory. The results were inconclusive, but I did receive some interesting observations:
"My personal experience is that, outside of our food world, men do not eat  off anyone's plate, regardless of what course it is, unless it's a communal dish that's intended to be grabbed from, like a tub or a platter for those wings. Only women reach over and taste something on someone else's plate. At least in the Midwest." - Lee Dean, food editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"All I know is that my wife believes she is entitled to anything on my plate. That goes for my beer, too, and she doesn't even like beer. But if I have some, she has to have a sip or two. Or a gulp. Or two." - Dan Neman, food editor at the Toledo Blade.
"Men are very territorial about their food, I think. I've noticed this with my husband. He gets all defensive if I want a bite, but then he doesn't finish it." - Kathleen Purvis, food editor for the Charlotte Observer.
"Women and at least some heterosexual couples will share, or maybe I'm speaking only of my husband and me. But in two years of waitressing during college, I never took an order from men in which it was clear they were sharing. Women, yes. Especially for decadence such as cheesecake." - Carol Gusenburg, editor for Scripps Howard News Service and
"Men always want to share my dessert. I tell them to order their own. It's not a gay/straight thing for me. Just pure gluttony." - Bill Daley, food and features writer for the Chicago Tribune.
So I'm afraid I can't offer a conclusive answer to Sedaris' observation. But as long as the world keeps turning, fellow diners, you run the risk of drawing back a nub if your fork heads for any chocolate cake sitting in front of me.

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