Walking down the aisle on the airplane en route from Chicago to Munich, I found it difficult to keep my distance from those occupying aisle seats. At first I thought it was the design – another space-saving measure dreamed up by an airline to add more seats to an already cramped plane. But three weeks ago I’d made the same journey on a similar plane flying in the opposite direction and hadn’t impinged on anyone’s personal space. Then the light came on. I’d grown – literally – into a bigger person – in just three weeks.
A food odyssey
Kentucky and its southern BBQ had started off the expansion. Add the burgers in Nashville and the po’boy sandwiches in Memphis and there’s a couple of Tennessee kilos accounted for. Moving across into Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, a steady diet of carne asada burritos and well-dressed nachos washed down by copious margaritas added a couple or three more to the mix (yes, I really did eat Mexican seven days on the trot).
California was relatively sane – something bordering on healthy in a vain attempt to reacquaint myself with vegetables; I’m not sure though that a six-pack of avocados was the way to go. What was saved in Palm Springs was more than spent in the all-you-can-eat buffets in Las Vegas.
A food heaven
All you can eat – the sign said – for just $22. Or get an all-day pass good from 7am to 10pm for $35. With a neat little wristband showing you as a paid-up member of the buffet brigade, you could start eating at 7am and not stop until 10pm, and all for $35. Can’t beat that for value. We were a tad more restrained, settling for the dinner version – two nights running.
Buffets are great when you have two people incapable of making a decision about where and what to eat. We’d used up all our decisions by the time we crossed into New Mexico and were running on empty by the time we got to Vegas. The buffet was an easy option… and the food was good.
A food obsession
What is it about buffets that makes us lose sight of reason, ignore our stomach’s screams of “no more, no more” and continue to load that plate until we’ve tasted just about everything on offer? What is it about the human psyche that turns mercenary at the sight of a food-for-all? Is it about eating every last cent of that $22? Is it about eating just because it’s there? Is it about greed or gluttony or piggery?
For the first time ever I’ve considered why gluttony made it on the list of the seven deadly sins. Why this need to make pigs of ourselves? Why can’t we just settle for one plate of what we like and leave the rest? And even if we attempt to walk away, our carbohydrate-laden weaker wills are called back by the buffet devils whispering, “Go on, you have room for just a little more”.
A food attack
Over the course of two evenings I watched my fellow diners return to the line three or four times to load up their plates with food, food and more food. And, to my shame, I was right there beside them. All of me. In fairness, they usually started with a salad and then moved on to pasta and then to the carvery and finally to dessert.
And don’t Italians do more or less the same very day, I told myself, in an effort to convince my conscience that I hadn’t become yet another victim of buffetitis. They do, yes, but not in these quantities.
Taking refuge from the scorching heat and the smoke-filled casinos, I took to watching cable TV. Ad after ad showed all-you-can-eat ribs, all-you-can-eat chicken wings, all-you-can-eat seafood. All you can eat… is it any wonder America has an obesity problem?
A food problem
But then I remembered the last time I was in Verandah – a great little restaurant in Budapest’s District IX. It, too, has an all-you-can eat buffet lunch. And there, too, people heap their plates high – something of everything. They might not go back for second and third helpings, instead making sure that their first go around captures it all. A false economy methinks.
The main visible difference in Budapest is that the holder of the laden plate is usually a svelte, size 8, which is in sharp contrast with the chubby size 18s and even 28s on show in Vegas. When I see slim young things put away so much food, I’m left wondering just how long a union break the food gods get.
And the non-Christian part of me snickers and thinks to myself: just you wait. One day, you’re going to wake up fat and forty. Try then to squeeze yourself down an airplane aisle without bumping anyone off.
First published in the Budapest Times 5 July 2013