I don’t know if it’s an ironclad rule, but I’ve always heard it is considered impolite to talk about religion, politics or money at the dinner table. It makes sense, because we should enjoy eating together, not dread it. And it still leaves plenty of things to talk about – work, family, sports, pets, hobbies, and if all else fails, at least you can talk about the food.
“Mmmm, it’s wonderful,” I said to Libby, our hostess, “The best chicken I’ve had in a long time.”
“I didn’t know people still ate meat,” said Cabernet from the far end of the table. “The mere thought of animal flesh makes me sick.” Cabernet, I found out later, had become a totally committed, radical vegan at one o’clock the previous afternoon during a first date with her new boyfriend, Willoughby.
“I always heard Hitler was a vegetarian,” said Don between bites. The sudden silence around the table made him realize that this factoid could be taken the wrong way; he quickly added, “So was George Bernard Shaw. And Julius Caesar and, oh, lots of awesome people.”
“I can hear the poor thing scream with every bite you take!” Cabernet snapped and took another swig of white wine.
Libby was not offended. “I don’t think chickens scream. They cluck, don’t they? Anyway, the guy at the store said it was cruelty-free, free-range chicken.”
“You don’t think cutting it up with a knife and a fork and sticking in your mouth is cruel?” slurred Cabernet. “What if a chicken did that to you?”
“That’s life at the top of the food chain,” said Libby. “Don’t you watch those nature shows. If we didn’t eat chickens, foxes and coyotes would. They’ve got to die of something.”
“Nothing eats us,” Cabernet said.
“Lots of things eat us,” said Don. “Bears. Sharks. Bacteria. Lions...”
“I love what you’ve done with the asparagus. It’s so fresh,” I said, trying to change the subject.
“I’m not sure it’s right to buy stuff that’s not in season in our neck of the woods,” said Willoughby. “This stuff probably came from Chile. The carbon footprint of flying a pound of fresh asparagus to here in the winter must be huge.”
Libby was starting to feel underappreciated. “Maybe they put it on the same plane that brought you back from that vacation in Arizona.” At least we weren’t talking about religion, politics or money, which put people off. This was more like it, fellowship among friends, breaking bread together in a spirit of ...
“I think it’s time we should go,” said Cabernet.
“Oh, you have to taste the dessert. It’s vegetarian, you can eat it – I promise it won’t scream. It’s a pound cake. A pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour...”
The remaining color drained from Cabernet’s face. “Sugar! Butter! Flour! Why don’t you just pull out a gun and kill us?”
“I wasn’t planning to but now I’ll have to think about it,” Libby said under her breath.
“You know, Hitler...”
“Shut up!” we all yelled at Don.
“Anyone for coffee,” Libby asked.
“Is it organic, fair-wage coffee roasted locally by homeless people?” Will asked.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt you, Don,” Libby said. “What were you saying?”
It just got worse after that. We’re going to have to add food to the list of things you can’t talk about at the dinner table.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.