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End Note

The Omnivore's Dilemma

What we talk about when we talk about what's for dinner.

Hilary B. Price

By Hilary B. Price

My toaster has two settings—burnt and off. There's a reason I am good at stir-fries and bad at omelets—I have difficulty with the idea of low heat over an extended period of time. Extended as in 7 minutes.

There are those who live to eat. Go enjoy the rest of this magazine, devoted this month to your kind. For those who eat to live, welcome to this small oasis on the back page. It's a place for people whose idea of prepping a meal means pulling the lid off the yogurt.

I make friends with people who are amazing chefs. I love dining at their homes, where these cooks think about the colors on the plate and make a sauce for every dish. I am a very appreciative guest. I bring wine, the adult version of bringing paperware to the picnic.

What happens next is always awkward: I tell them how much I love a dish. They offer me the recipe.

My heart says, "Yes!" My mind says, "Seriously?" I stash all of these recipes in the crease of my Moosewood cookbook, which I keep out of reach above my refrigerator.

It's not that I never cook, but any recipe I make has to fit my rule: five ingredients, max. I learned this awesome rule from a pint of Häagen-Dazs. The ice cream makers were touting their purity—five ingredients were all they needed to make great ice cream. Good enough for them, good enough for me.

I've found you can do a lot with five quality ingredients—salads, pasta, turkey roll-ups. A plate is often the sixth ingredient, so that stays in the cupboard while I eat over the sink. (I also hold the opinion that eating out of the fridge isn't bad: It prevents overeating because you get cold.)

While I see myself as easygoing when other people are cooking, this attitude has its dark side. There's a good way to be easy, and there's a lousy way. I first noticed the lousy way in a conversation at a lunch with some friends. One colleague was baffled by the interaction he had almost daily with his wife.

"We eat maybe five different dishes. She calls me at work and says, 'What would you like for dinner?' I say, "Whatever you want, honey! They're all good!' Silence on the other end—I can tell she's pissed."

He looked despondent. "Because," my friend Jeannie said matter-of-factly, "what women want is participation, not deference."

Suddenly, so many things made sense. Why "either" is a lame answer to "Chicken or fish?" How this extends beyond the choice of "What's for dinner?" to many a cul-de-sac—which shade of white the trim should be, which jacket goes better with which pants. It turns out your answering is vital to a long-term relationship, even if you really, truly, don't care.

What you say doesn't matter. It's that you say. This is the low heat over extended time.

Because no one wants their relationship to end up like my toaster: burnt or off.

Hilary B. Price, '91, has been creating the syndicated cartoon Rhymes with Orange since 1995.

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