The emotional backlash against Valentine's Day is potent and ubiquitous. Millions of people despise the holiday -- far more than hate Christmas. Every spinster is a grinch on February 14, and "lonely men in shirt sleeves, leaning out of windows" -- they have little love for public humiliation, either. Not since Ralph Wiggum got his pity card from Lisa Simpson has anyone had a good thing to say about Valentine's Day.
It's even worse when food and love are shoehorned together for the occasion. I understand the rationale of restaurants, who seek to fill tables with big spenders, who will buy better wine than they can afford. And I can see why editors, seeking a peg to hang banal features on, will assign stories about "the most romantic restaurants." But I have to here state my opinion, in which I feel backed by the consensus of all humankind:
Food and romance don't go together.
Not only don't they go together -- they cancel each other out. I realize that I am nearly alone in asserting this. There is a whole wall of movies at the video store about the supposed seductive power of food, or the way in which the sensual flood let loose by chocolate or stew can soon be diverted into the bedroom. But I don't believe it. In fact, when I am watching steamy softcore on TV or in the movies, and the couple break out the whipped cream and strawberries, I reach for my remote.
There is something fundamentally wrong about trying to combine food and romance. Food is a solitary pleasure, a refuge from reality, a crack in the rock of the world. Every meal is a meal for one. I hope that my own table-talk, and table manners, are such as will do credit to civilized beings anywhere in the world, and most of my social discourse, if you can call it that, takes place in bars and restaurants. But deep down I feel that any occasion upon which you converse with another human being takes away from the eating experience in some way. Eating is pure id; and I am encouraged in this view by the behavior of another, far more glorious neurotic than myself.
Of Samuel Johnson, the 18th century's "Hercules of Literature," Boswell has this to say.
When at table, he was totally absorbed in the
business of the moment; his looks seemed
rivetted to his plate; nor would he, unless when
in very high company, say one word, or even pay
the least attention to what was said by others, till
he had satisfied his appetite, which was so fierce,
and indulged with such ferocity, that while in the
act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled,
and generally a strong perspiration was visible.
Does this sound like a man likely to be moved by a "Sexy Recipes for Your Lover" magazine clipping? In fact, food is a substitute, or more accurately a sublimation, of the need for love. When aroused, who thinks of food? The height of perversity, to me, is the presence of buffets or even full restaurant kitchens, in strip clubs. It's not just the question of hygiene. Everyone knows that strippers are infinitely cleaner than ordinary people. They are hairless, after all. But there is only room enough in the human frame for one all-consuming appetite at a time. Who, when voraciously hungry, has any interest in romance? For that matter, who has any interest in romance after a big meal? An engorged stomach diverts all the blood that should be engorging the genitals; and the intellectual energy required for seduction is spent just trying to stay awake. And who, when burning with desire for some sharp-featured goddess, has any interest in putting on the feedbag? Still, gluttons can rejoice at their solo status on this official day of their exclusion. On Valentine's, you can always get a table for one.