The Tyranny of Meals

Cereal for dinner? Why not. Rules about mealtime make no sense

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I am never eating a meal again. Period. No, I am not calling a Bobby Sands-style hunger strike; my bloated body would take far too long to waste away for anyone in power to notice. I am swearing off of eating an array of breakfast foods in the morning and an appetizer and entrée at night, my small act of protest against the tyranny of being offered only certain foods at certain times. I’m tired of conventional meals and their prescribed dishes. And you know what? A lot of other people are, too.

I was encouraged in my resolution to stop sitting down and tucking in — and instead to simply grab and go — by reading a recent piece in USA Today on marketers adapting menus to the new eat-what-I-want-when-I-want trend. Either because people are too busy, the thinking goes, or because things like social media and smartphones have made us expect to be able to customize every detail in our lives, or for some other reason, food service entities are finding that they need to keep everything available all the time.

(PHOTOS: A Worldwide Day’s Worth of Food)

The message has been coming through for some time. Remember when people ate bacon entirely at breakfast? This was before every restaurant discovered a boundless, round-the-clock appetite for it and started retooling their menus accordingly. That was just a few years ago, but bacon as a “breakfast meat” now seems as remote as whalebone corsets or three-martini lunches. Blurring boundaries have driven more places to serve burgers in the morning and cereal for dinner. And I, for one, am glad of it. Our food is too fattening today, and meals in general come in portions too big to eat three times daily.

Breakfast was its own form of madness. Was there really an era when people had so much time that they could sit down and eat two eggs, buttered toast, hash browns, sausage and/or bacon, orange juice, coffee or tea, or pancakes? I haven’t eaten breakfast like that in years; it’s a special occasion meal, a celebratory indulgence, like going to a strip club. Most people I know, like the consumers in the USA Today article, eat a bagel or a donut or something like that in the morning, just like they eat “breakfast foods,” like bacon and cereal, throughout the day as needed. Sit-down lunch is something for plutocrats and schoolchildren. Or so it seems to me, now that I no longer eat it.

And don’t even get me started on dinner. I’ve chafed under its yoke for years! I’m tired at the end of the day, and I want to relax. The last thing I want is to sit in a chair for hours, immobile, eating six times what it takes to satisfy my hunger and walking out enervated, bloated, heavy and $100 or more poorer. Because it is my duty to ferret out new trends in American gastronomy, I have to go to a lot of dinners. But if given my choice, I would never eat a whole meal again, and if I did, it would most certainly not be at night. Especially now that I am married and am needed at home and semi-awake.

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Of course, this apparent anti-meal movement may not have legs. As a prediction, it may end up as a punchline of the sort used to mock past predictions that didn’t come true — e.g. everyone eating roast beef pills, or staying permanently young or talking to computers they carry in their pockets. (Oh wait — that did come true.) Perhaps society will develop new meals to accommodate our changed lives, the way the hobbits eat “second breakfast” in Tolkien. I’m not placing any wagers. I am just here to say, like so many of my fellow Americans, I am done with the idea of the three squares a day. I’ll eat whatever I want, in whatever size portion, in whatever environment suits me. Given how hard we all work now, it doesn’t seem like a bowl of cereal for dinner is asking too much.

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