I can’t queue for food. I just won’t do it.
Which is a problem, because it means that at any party where there are two or more people even near the potato salad, it means that I have to go somewhere and wait until they decide to drift off and stand somewhere else. This never happens. People will insist on hovering near the fucking food table and talking about whatever juice-cleanse they’re about to do, of course with a mouth full of mini chicken sosatie, which means getting to the chicken sosaties yourself becomes like some ridiculous game of Deathmatch Twister, where the loser is forced to starve and die in the corner.
Which is why at these parties my plate usually only ever has an olive on it and the funny zig zaggy carrot thing that was actually meant to be a decoration.
It’s not that I’m a snob, or don’t want to be touched, or find the idea beneath me – the answer is much simpler: boarding school.
Like a couple of other things in my life (churches with ghosts in them, but that’s another story), boarding school is to blame for the fact that I find being smooshed together with a bunch of other people so that we can collectively pick things off the same plate, about as appealing as licking flies. And by flies, I mean the zipper in the crotch of a stranger’s pants.
Standing in a sweaty queue with hundreds of other kids every day for 10 years with a greasy, warm tray that smelled of armpit, to be given a plate with something grey on it, has cured me of any remote desire to ever do that again in my life. Which means a lunchtime that looks like this, is literally my worst nightmare:
This is tricky, because that’s what I spent all of last week doing. Three times a day.
Conferences are inescapably weird. Mostly because you spend the entire time in a big lecture hall watching people saying things at you for a couple of hours, after which you file into another hall to feed, then back into the auditorium for more people with European accents to say things like ‘modular’, ‘user-generated content’ and ‘flat-pack’. As an aside, it’s a staggering insight into how battery animals are fattened up and turned into wieners or whatever.
Sit, feed, sit, coffee, sit, donut, sit, marshmellows-on-a-stick, sit, French guy.
And the funny thing is that it’s got very little to do with the food, which at this year’s Design Indaba (which is where I was) was actually very good. It’s more that the primordial oddness of humanity’s baked-in competitive spirit, and also that thing we have where we don’t want it if everyone else also has one – don’t really mix when you’ve got 2000 people all figuring out if they want a slice of quiche or that other thing.
It basically means that no matter how well-planned something like this might be, it’s always a mad scramble where most of the time people end up with giant plates of things they a) didn’t really want but just didn’t want to the next guy to have, and b) things that make them look like they avoided falling into the bourgeois trap of just loading up with bacon sandwiches.
So herewith the All You Can Eat For Free conference eating rules:
1) If you think it could be chicken, but you’re not quite sure – it means it’s almost always fish and will be a nasty surprise in about 30 second’s time when you put it in your mouth.
2) The tools with which you will be supplied to get the thing off the serving plate and onto your plate, will never actually work and will usually be supremely inappropriate for whatever it is that you’re meant to be serving. There is no feeling worse than being watched by an impatient line of strangers as you try and separate, then lift an appropriate amount of nachos onto your plate, using a small fork, and not your fingers (because apparently people are soooo judgy about that sort of thing). Because unless you’re the first to have done it and the cheese is still all melty and stuff, then inevitably all you’re going to get is a giant cold cheese slab that you couldn’t break off properly without touching it, and then whatever miserable soggy nachos were clinging on at the bottom. This will not be delicious and will only fill you with awful self-loathing later on.
3) Always consider whatever food you choose through the filter of, ‘Can I eat this on the floor?’ Anything that actually has to be cut into pieces before eating will inevitably end in an accidental stabbing, so avoid and move on.
4) Controversial, but always avoid the delicious-looking saucy chicken wings. These can inevitably only be eaten with your fingers (see rule 3), and will always make your fingers smell of whatever insane BBQ-sauce they’ve been doused with – which in twenty minute’s time is going to make life tricksy when the hot girl you’ve been furiously ignoring sits next to you, and it will now seem like you literally sluiced smoked chicken all over yourself just before you came in and sat down. Repeat after me, BBQ-sauce is not a gateway drug to hot conference sex.
5) He who waits, wins. I know this runs counter to our Great Depression era-of-austerity trained lizard-brains, but these shindigs are usually always very well catered. And (this is the important bit) there is always a second round, where more of everything is dutifully trundled out. So, take a breath, and when everyone else is biting and scratching and running to be the first person to get to the falafels, just wait. Get a coffee. Make a phonecall. Retain your dignity. And then when the death-match has subsided and the second wave is brought out, saunter over and pick over at your leisure. Be the person everyone else wishes they were.
As a final note, the cure to all to all of this, always looks like this, which is the first thing I did when I got home:
What To Do
Throw everything you like to eat for breakfast into a hot pan. Fry. Serve. Remember life before queues.