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On the show Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall, who played the lascivious Samantha once quipped: “How we are in bed is how we are in life.” Her theory being, that a person’s love making style would be indicative of their general approach to life. I would imagine though that there are other microcosms in our day to day lives that are predictive of our overall personality. Since this is a food column you probably already know where I’m going with this. Therefore, reinventing Samantha’s axiom, could we say that “How we are at the dinner table is how we are in life?” And by the “dinner table”, I’m metaphorically referring to the entire spectrum of our food-related behavior, i.e., how we select, prepare, and consume food. What we like, what we don’t like, who we eat it with, where we eat, how we eat, and all the personality quirks that manifest themselves in our gustatory repertoire.
There are many dimensions to the human psyche and just as many varied perspectives for analyzing it. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, postulated that the mind was composed of three dimensions, the Id, the Superego, and the Ego. The Id is our impulses, especially sexual and aggressive. It is the source of our desires, our passions, and our most base animal instincts. It wants what it wants and it wants it now. Conversely, the Superego is our conscience; an amalgamation of values, ethics, and moral prescriptions. A primary source of guilt, it battles with the Id. The Ego is the reality based part of the mind. It endeavors to serve both masters. It seeks to fulfill the Id’s demands while taking into account the dictates of the superego and the parameters of society. Employing Freud’s theory then, think about the eating habits of people you know, or yourself even. Are you Id, Superego or Ego dominated when it comes to food?
Are you on a diet? Do you feel guilty when you consume a food that’s not within the confines of your diet, such as foods high in fat, calories, sugar, carbs, etc? When you do decide to splurge do you have trouble enjoying a forbidden food for fear of what it may be doing to your waistline or your health? Or do you have a moral problem with how certain animals are treated before slaughter? Maybe you think it’s immoral to even kill animals for food? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions you are indeed a candidate for a Superego-endectomy. I feel sorry for those in this camp. Eating, one of life’s most simple and basic pleasures has been transformed into a daily agony.
Additionally, the person deprives them self of certain gastronomic pleasures in order to appease their oppressive internal master. This person probably carries their self-depriving and guilt-laden proclivities into life’s other venues as well.
On the contrary, the Id based person inverts the food guide pyramid and laughs in the face of death. These gluttonous individuals eat whatever they like unfettered by Puritanical trappings. The only pangs they feel are hunger, not guilt. Food is to be brazenly enjoyed. Tomorrow they’ll worry about paying the piper. Id based eaters are more likely to be epicures and savor a wide variety of foods. They have no issues with any food source such as animals. Their position on meat consumption is eloquently demonstrated by a quote from the famous chef Anthony Bourdain: “You’re slower than me, you’re stupider than me, and you taste good. Now pass the salt.” Extrapolating to the world at large, these hedonistic individuals suck the marrow out of the bone of life.
Finally the Ego based eater strives for balance. They can allow themselves to indulge without guilt but do so in moderation. They tend to have few issues with food and the concerns they do have tend to be more reality based. You won’t find them boycotting veal but they know excess fat consumption will add to their girth. The Ego based individual knows the dangers of the extremes. They probably seek the same kind of balance and compromise in all they do.
Of course, people don’t fit neatly and uniformly into such categories. Most individuals inevitably display an array of the three dimensions. They may be somewhat reserved in one area of their life and indulgent in another for example. But it is probably fair to say that most of us lean one way or another. So the next time you need to assess someone’s personality, such as a prospective employee or romantic partner, take them out for a meal. Notice if they order a salad and a diet soda, the rack of lamb with a bottle of Bordeaux, or the chicken breast with one glass of white.
As for me, Billy Joel summed it up best: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the sinners are much more fun.”