Apples and oranges, but not on the first date

It’s the story of so many dates: a meal and a conversation at a restaurant located somewhere on the spectrum between dive and high-end, or somewhere between fast food and healthy. Increasingly, the choice of venue has led to a boiling, bubbling debate about what food choices reveal about those who make them. Whether your date is vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, omnivore, locavore or none of the above, is there something about what they order that should cause you to pause and marinade on what characteristics those choices disclose?

Hardly strangers, but scarcely intimate, our first date was mostly a success. He ordered a hamburger, fries and salad, but it was more complicated for me. I scanned the menu and inquired about whole wheat buns, salad dressings and water temperature, knowing all the while that I was likely frightening this simple boy from Wisconsin with my food neuroses. It was with some trepidation that I finally ordered a chicken sandwich on white bread.

Years later, I told him that the sandwich had represented my first departure in years from rigid dietary habits. I shunned all things that could not be classified as lean protein, whole grain, healthy fat or water. He laughed and told me that he had been so relieved on that day (now five years ago) when I had ordered more than just a salad.

That hamburger-eating date is now my spouse. When we met, he had scarcely eaten more than two spices in his life: salt and pepper. I come from an East Indian family with a passion for food, have a sister with culinary training and experience as a pastry chef, and had my own over-developed sense of dietary morality.

While some would call our pairing and food histories a case of dating suicide, others might say that we made room on our lifestyle plates for each other. As restaurant and food choices become increasingly scrutinized for assessing a couple’s lifespan, do food habits really mirror a person’s life choices, or mirror our own food prejudices? In dining with my companion, I reconsidered my own food morals and realized that a single meal is not the best indicator of a person’s commitment to the environment, their food politics or their lifestyle choices. Although it is arguable that a person’s food choices may reveal hints about their lifestyle, and compatible lifestyles are more conducive to successful relationships, does a single, clinical meal provide sufficient grounds for judging a relationship candidate? In this case, it didn’t. In fact, if I had judged my date based on a first date meal and decided that his restaurant choice was not aligned with my commitment to certain food ethics, we might not have made it to a subsequent date.

So, what did that first date tell me about my companion? Not only was I impressed by my date’s ability to balance his gym-habits with the occasional treat, but I was inspired to develop a more flexible variant of “healthy” eating. Over the years, I had my first filet mignon (not a bad entry into the world of steak) and he had his first mango. True, one’s moral compass manifests itself through a number of symbolic gestures. But perhaps instead of considering the menu a scorecard for a second date, we could consider that presenting a date with an election ballot might present better odds for assessing the metrics of compatibility.

Sure, your date’s food habits could be a deal maker or a deal breaker, but why not use it as a launching board for a more direct route to their bottom line: a conversation.

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