What's The Etiquette For Sharing Food With Friends?

February 19 2009, 10:02 AM

sharing-food1I have a friend, let's call her Germina, whom I dine with about once a month. This friend and I share closely held secrets, admit to shameful indiscretions, and regularly swap gossipy stories about people we have in common. But one thing we never, ever share is bites of food--not from each other's plates, and certainly not from each other's forks. This is not my choice. It's Germina's. She's cootie-averse. Recently, we were dining at YiaYia's Euro Cafe in the Denver Tech Center, and she was clearly enjoying her plate of grilled salmon and homemade shrimp ravioli. Knowing that I like to try different dishes, she primly sliced a wedge of pink salmon, layered it with a single pasta square, placed it on my bread plate, and slid the plate back to my side of the table. Yes, it was tasty, but something about the lonely little bite, sitting all by its sanitized self, dimmed my enthusiasm for the dish.

I know, I know. Forks harbor germs, and it's more hygienic and polite to use your own utensils when swapping bites. Plus, it's flu season and being a little cautious makes good health sense. I also realize that diners have different personal space preferences. Thus, it's generally best to act like a grown-up and not slurp Shiraz from someone else's stemware, excise a bite of Bolognese from her bowl, or otherwise insert yourself into the middle of her dining experience. But still. Germina's actions drive me crazy. I mean how many germs can two middle-age, professional women without kids really be carrying? As an unrepentant foodie, I much prefer dining with people who believe in enthusiastically sharing and swapping and doing so without all the maternal fuss. For me, the entire dining experience is more relaxed and communal that way. If you've gone to the trouble to call your friends, choose a restaurant, set a date and make a reservation, why wouldn't everyone at the table want to get the most they can from the meal? To me, that's what dining is all about. At Root Down a few weeks ago, for example, I ordered the goat cheese and fennel panna cotta salad and was so taken with the dish that I immediately loaded my fork with several creamy, glistening bites and passed nibbles around the table. (This seemed more socially acceptable than standing on my chair, calling the restaurant to order, and insisting everyone in the place stop what they're doing and order the dish straight away.) My dining companions, all hard-core food enthusiasts, greedily accepted my forkfuls without a single antiseptic thought. Then, as expected, they returned the favor. I know Germina is on one end of the germ spectrum, and my Root Down friends the other, and that we all have good reasons for why we do--or do not--share bites with friends. But really, is it necessary for Germina to be so rigid about sharing? Or am I just overly demanding?

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