I watch my children gather round the kitchen table for a snack: two small bags of Mini Cheddars poured into a bowl for them to share. I say ‘share,’ but the reason I’m watching them is to prevent a fight breaking out.
They all have different tactics to ensure they get the most out of the offering. The middle one (age 4) drags the bowl towards her, picking out individual crackers to hand to her siblings. Kind, in a way, but her siblings get jealous. The bowl is moved back to the middle. My son’s approach is to stuff as many into his mouth as he can in one go, thus freeing up his hands to grab more. He’s two. It’s a good tactic, the cycle gathers momentum, but engorgement usually – and in this case classically – ends badly. My eldest (age 6), meanwhile, watches all this with some anxiety: how can we make it as fair as possible? What if someone gets more than another?? Oh no it looks like someone IS going to get more than me!! Arrrgh! Mummy!!! No!! Stop!!!!! Mummy intervenes and calm is restored.
I wish I could say that these are merely childish traits, but the fact is I see them in myself. I regularly pour more cereal into my breakfast bowl than I need, then wonder why I did that as I struggle to consume the final third of the serving. My eyes are bigger then my stomach; my appetite is bigger than my need. No longer a child bound merely by instinct, it is fear that drives overconsumption; the fear of being without, the fear of feeling hungry, wrestling with the obvious truth, which is that I have more than enough. Were I even to miss the whole meal, I’d still have enough.
And enough really is enough. A meal in France over the summer brought this home for me. We were spending a night with relations, who cooked us a meal. The first course was plain tomatoes, home grown and lightly dressed. Next came a traditional dish of slow roasted mutton, served on a bed of legumes. Dessert was home grown blackberries and apples, with what felt like a wicked side of Carte d’Or. As a regular caterer to five hungry people, I would have guessed it wasn’t enough, yet it turned out to be one of the best, most deeply satisfying meals I’ve ever eaten, and I’m sure size had something to do with it. A few tomatoes, a small portion of meat and beans, fruit with a modest scoop of ice cream; we took our time over each and every morsel. Similarly, the wine was superb but we drank it from the smallest glasses you’ve ever seen – bowls the size of an apricot. I needn’t mention the coffee cups.
As we left the dining room and retired to our bedroom, contemplating my own cabinet of oversized mugs and wine glasses, our socially acceptable practices of grab and gorge, I reflected on the elements needed to be perfectly satisfied: good food, good wine, good company, and just enough of each.