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COLUMN

Eat, Drink, And Be Patient

Andrew C. Thomas

Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

I’ll admit it openly -- I’m not a very patient man. I can’t stand waiting in line while food is served. I can’t stand the feeling of dread on Monday mornings that Friday night is so far away. Like many other MIT students, I stare at the clock during lecture, hoping that a few more minutes have passed. I’ve learned, though, that if I hope to retain any portion of my stomach lining before graduation, it’s a quality I will have to adopt.

There are, however, fun and informative ways in which one can learn the skill without much pain. My favorite is the all-you-can-eat buffet, where an incredible selection of gustatory delights awaits customers. When a group is seated, its members should take a few minutes to make sure that they know each others’ faces, if not their names. This serves as a reminder that the occasion is social, and not simply an event to gorge on the cuisine.

Typically, bread is first brought to the table as the first test of patience. One cannot succumb to hunger and pounce on the bread basket with a look of insanity in the eyes. One piece should be removed and sliced if necessary. If butter is desired, so be it, but moderation is in order -- leave a few packets for the rest of the party. Chew thoroughly, letting the enzymes in your mouth take care of some of the digestive work. The real challenge lies ahead.

Skip the salad, unless you’re a vegetarian or have a Caesar complex. In the grand scheme, the raw space that roughage consumes is not worth the value of the meal. For that matter, skip the bread if at all possible. If you must have soup, only a small bowl is wise. There are better things out there as long as you have the temperance to wait for them.

Become one with your hunger. Then, slowly make your way to the appetizers. Do not bolt for the pizza or the bruschetta, the Kalamata olives or the mozzarella sticks. Calmly place them on your plate and enjoy your dinner company as you savor the taste. Again, do not gorge yourself. If at this point you have taken your time and have retained your composure, enough room should be left for the main course. Delicious pasta, meatballs, marinara and alfredo. Veal, chicken and eggplant parmigiana. The buffet seems to stretch on.

At this point it is likely that you have retained enough room to have as much as possible. But restraint is still in order. Do not take the expression “all you can eat” literally. If you pile your plate to the ceiling, you might feel like you have an elastic stomach now, but the next morning you’ll surely feel it. So don’t serve too much onto one plate. With smaller quantities, feel free to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. You’ll feel better about your experience and save yourself future pain.

At last you’re ready for dessert. Buffets tend not to have the greatest quality of desserts, but ice cream and fruit are always appreciated after a meal. With its natural fibers, fruit can take the digestive role of the salad, but at a more appropriate place in the meal. I don’t know a soul who doesn’t appreciate ice cream to bring a meal to a close. With patience, an event known for gorging can become a wonderful dining experience.

If I could only convince the registrar’s office to limit classes to half an hour in length, the stomachs of a fair number of MIT students might be saved. I confess that I don’t practice what I preach. I fill up on bread and salad and pay for it in the morning. Perhaps that’s a symptom of North American culture and inherent in the nature of buffets. I intend to take these lessons in hand, though, and become more temperant. Patience has wide applications. Academics, sports, romance and music can all be greatly improved simply by holding back enough to appreciate the delicacies to come.