SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE MUST HAVE WRITTEN a book along the lines of Ten Great Conversation Starters or Sixteen Ways to Enliven Dinner Talk, or something like that. If there is such a book, I'd love to compare notes sometime (or maybe I'll just read it). I'd bet, if the authors' experiences are anything like mine, that food would be at or near the top of any list of conversation starters, enhancers, stimulators or, for that matter, one of the better ways to stop a conversation dead in its tracks.
This occurred to me the other day when I was having a pleasant talk with someone I hardly knew—a person I'd known only a short time—yet, here we were, talking about food in familiar terms, with candid remarks and with the ease of old friends. Indeed, the conversation was candid and lively enough so that others nearby felt comfortable enough to chime in. Does that work with politics? Religion? The weather? Sex? (Well, maybe with the weather—as far as I can tell, the other subjects are so polarizing that it's wise to avoid them unless you're actively seeking an argument or worse. People in general, though, seem genuinely accommodating and tolerant (at worst disagreeable, but with a pleasant demeanor) when food is the main topic of conversation.
What's not to like? We seem to find it endlessly fascinating to watch, talk about or to anyone who's got food on his or her mind. And while most other opinions about sex or politics or religion bring yawns, I'd bet most of us find food discussions rewarding and interesting—heck, there might be a meal at the end of it somewhere. The best restaurant in town? The best spices for a dish? There is no wrong answer, is there? (Geez—you'd think what I said about tomatoes in the last issue was an assault on the foundations of Western Culture. It brought on more than a few conversations—most of them pleasant enough, if not downright humorous. Unfortunately, the conclusion seems to be that there's an undetected underlying character defect that should be looked into. All in good humor—it wasn't my politics in question, which I'm sure would have resulted in a different tenor altogether.)
One line we hear a lot in the context of our business here in the magazine is "Everybody Eats." By way of expanding on that, it's also as truthful and correct to say "Everybody Talks About What They Eat." And, unless you're the kind of person with a naturally cantankerous personality, there are few, if any, taboos in private conversation. (In public, naturally one must be careful—Oprah's crack about hamburgers cost her a few million dollars, though she, and we, learned she had every right to say what she did.)
By the way, on the other hand, I really like tomatoes, I really do. Don't you? Doesn't everybody?