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Guest Viewpoints

A Writer in Manhattan: This Is How I Understand the Restaurant Table and the Future

March 10, 2023
By Dimitris Eleas

From time immemorial, social gatherings and top events have taken place around a table. The symposiums were great; they had the best food, the best aged wine, and the best service that was made up of many small performances. “Many conversations with deep reflections were endless in ancient Athens, and lasted all night,” a friend of mine will point out. Thus, Plato, as an example, wrote in the Symposium (circa 385-370 BC).

At the table, you don’t just eat and enjoy a glass of wine, but mostly you talk. You speak and support your opinions and you discuss. At the humble table, there has always been freedom of speech, and that is something with which the West has moved forward with. Perhaps, it would not be an exaggeration if today we say that, the ‘imaginary bases’ of the Western World, of America, are also on the table.

Only, first, with the argument and then, with the counter-argument that follows, will the truth be approached (as well as, the Knowledge, the Ethics and the Aesthetics).
Thus, a table means: think beyond the food.

The table as an object will also be the main component of the restaurant. Where the restaurant also means food, culture, and hospitality.

The concept of hospitality is something that is also lost in the depths of turbulent centuries. People have always had the need to open their home to someone coming from afar and offer them a glass of water and hot food. Even Leon Trotsky was once a guest of Kemal Atatürk. But what can it mean, for the future of society, for man to eat at a restaurant table alone or, with others as it is usually the case? And how can this habit have better effects for himself, society and the environment?

For centuries, the restaurants, with the landscape of tables that distinguish them, have been the stomach of every metropolis. People going to a table to eat together – it is a revolutionary idea, great joy, and only positive elements can be in store for the future. And also, in a post-pandemic world, what people will consume on the table can protect them from some future pandemic, but also reduce the effects of climate change. But isn’t that a reasonable thing?

The table is society within society. Why? Life is a long journey. It has love, friendship, laughter, tragedy, and intense moments. Heading to a table to enjoy a meal is a form of sacred pilgrimage. You will meet a new person which is knowledge in itself. And you have to “accept everything,” and at the same time, leave it behind you when you sit in one of the chairs at the table, a moment that increases saliva, especially while you read the menu. And for sure, when you look at the wine list with full-bodied reds (Merlot…) and whites (Sauvignon Blanc…)!

At the same time, being at a table where some people will serve you through subtle movements with all their being is the culmination of a personal journey, but also of all human history.
Everyone is interested in food and having a good time during his/her life. Thus, “Thank God” for the restaurant table. Modern people are obsessed with the process of dining out and eating food with a knife and a fork (items which the waiters, usually also micro-intellectuals, put in symmetry while they set up a table and prepare it for the dining period). At the same time, every experience around the table, during the lunch or the dinner will be different from everyone else’s. However, what people will eat together at the table can make the future of humanity safer. That’s something.

Can eating more vegetables, seeds and fruits –in favor of produce grown locally – and less meat and fish, also be an act of nobility and responsibility to society? The Earth? Clearly yes, and less land devoted to producing meat will help a lot. And lobster – that was never the much-loved food of Kings – is good, but lentil soup is even better.

New York City is the center of the world as it is called, so maybe the responsibility of the restaurateurs and of the restaurant managers here is crucial. If the people who, slowly after the lockdowns, start sitting at a restaurant table again in order to eat and socialize, what, and how they will order, can be a good development for the environment, and not only for their personal memories.

The restaurants can help. With their tireless staff, they can influence, eliminate waste, and even change, the habits of their customers. As an example, Eleven Madison Park restaurant has an eco-minded menu based only on vegetables and seeds, and Estiatorio Milos is also making efforts to include in its menu seasonality of ingredients with more options with vegetables, soups, and risotto.

Our choices at the table, but also the harmonious eat-together mentality, not only means that people after so many wars are at peace, but it means that they are interested in the future of society. There’s a lot going on.

Day by day, it becomes restaurant culture that everyone accepts some responsibility regarding the flora and fauna around us. The customers watching films and series such as: ‘The Menu’ (2022), ‘Boiling Point’ (2021), and ‘The Bear’ (2022) also understand better the insides of the tough restaurant industry. Reading books such as ‘Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’ (2022) also helps a lot.

The restaurant table can be a new Rosetta Stone for unlocking the past and moving forward, and upon it, we can invent a more fruitful future.

By ordering from the menu, people also decide on the future. And this is something incredibly important, a form of ‘direct democracy’.

Food is extremely important and it’s time for everyone to decide to eat better and healthier. And what is the point? Let the food that people order on the table have the least possible environmental impact, and when that happens, there will be more food for everyone. More clean water for everyone. “Putting your needs ahead of others is a dangerous habit, for yourself and for the planet” The Economist recently wrote, and this thought cannot be silenced just because some people like watching a chef seasoning a piece of meat with a ‘cobra-inspired hand’ and the salt to run down his forearm and fall on it like snowflakes…

The divan, and certainly that of psychoanalysis, may have either given man rest or helped him to understand himself in his infinite vicissitudes, but the restaurant table, where people eat, share food, and exchange ideas, will also propagate our continuity on Earth to an extent that is not at all negligible.

From the table of every restaurant begins the pilgrimage to a fairer, Earth-friendly and more reasonable tomorrow. It is an obligation of all, and more so, of those who work in the restaurants, that more climate-friendliness begins here, in the mythical city-that-never-sleeps.

It has to be added that, Noma’s closure, planned to take place at the end of 2024, sparks new questions and challenges too, far beyond the physical exhaustion of its talented staff who even served grilled reindeer heart. As Fine Dining has its limits, it will have a better meaning if, one day, it means something like: Fine Future for Humanity and the Planet!

Dimitris Eleas is a writer, independent researcher, and political activist. His writings have appeared in books, journals, and newspapers. You can contact him via e-mail: [email protected].

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