Fare's Fair

Lately I have been thinking rather a lot about food. Actually it's the people who eat various types of food, not the substance itself that has been uppermost in my mind. At the risk of labouring the point (and this is a risk I take on a daily basis) I have been thinking about food rather more than is healthy for someone not professionally involved in its preparation, but more than that I have been pondering whether people who eat certain foods also behave in certain ways. I know this is a wide-sweeping statement and no doubt will be shouted down as being half-baked (couldn't resist the culinary pun!) because after all, nobody eats the same type of food all the time.

Perhaps it is certain types of food that engender various predictable reactions from the consumer. I don't intend to suggest that personalities can be assessed by observing the type of food someone eats. Neither do I suggest that food totally dictates people's behavior. However I do believe we can observe particular rituals associated with various types of food. So, if you are still with me, persevere a little longer and see if you can find fault with these observations.

Have you visited a fast food store recently? Look, I have no desire to be coy… I'm not talking about any old fast food store. I do have a particular type of food in mind and I actually have two specific fast food outlets in mind. OK. I'm talking about hamburgers - and not the ones you buy from the local fish and chip shop. McDonald's. Hungry Jacks. There! I've said it.

Well, have you been to either of these fast food Meccas lately? Both of these eateries tend to be big on windows – on all walls of the building it seems – and of course fluoro lighting is a must, so I have had occasion to observe what goes on inside. For a start, it seems that at any time of the day there are always at least seven people waiting at the counter to be served. And those who have been served appear to be attacking their food with a vengeance one usually associates with near-starvation. Why is this?

I once heard (and I certainly am loath to credit my source as being an expert or even particularly well-informed ) that one of the aforementioned hamburger vendors adds no less than 16 chemicals to the lettuce found in their burgers in order to keep it fresh. Is this the key to the singular attention our Mac attack victims and Burger Kings give their fare? Have they indeed built up an insatiable need – an addiction if you like – for the very chemicals that were designed to keep the lettuce fresh? Or do I dare to make a more sinister implication? Of course I do! Perhaps the so-called freshness chemicals are so-called and that's it! Are they indeed insidious substances which will ensure that the consumer develops an unbeatable habit? Argue with me if you will as to the addiction theory, but go forth and observe the behavior of imported-American-technology-burger eaters.

Look at the almost extroverted way they feel they must consume their food. As if a fishbowl under a spotlight weren't enough, invariably these eating places have seats placed in the windows facing out towards the public so that all and sundry can observe the mastication of the converted. And if this doesn't flaunt the enjoyment of the product enough there are countless hamburger munchers who insist on walking in the street while eating. To me there's a sort of exhibitionist feel to this type of behavior. Those people holding a huge crumpled ball of plastic, cardboard box and paper serviette (all emblazoned with the company name) to their mouths as they stride our pedestrian walkways seem to be saying "Yeah, that's right. Look at me eat. Watch me eat this hamburger!"

The final characteristic of the Big Mac or Whopper fancier, is the actual eating style. The food goes in, in huge lumps, is hardly chewed and is only halfway through the marvellous phenomenon of peristalsis before the next bite is taken.

Of course, walking while eating is not confined to those who indulge in hamburger consumption. Take a walk down the main street or mall of the city in which you live and delight in the sheer magnitude of the ambulatory lunch faction. I'm always surprised that there actually are eating establishments that have managed to attract people into them and have made them stay. Probably they serve a type of food that really is impossible to eat while walking along. For people will eat the most difficult types of food whilst strolling. I do not tell a lie when I say I have seen someone eating spaghetti bolognese from a tin foil container with a plastic fork while seemingly going for a new pedestrian land speed record.

I now feel the need to peer through my magnifying glass at what used to be known in trendy literature as the café society. I’m talking about those people who drink exotic coffees like macchiato and café latte. OK so they’re not that exotic…but mention Nescafé near one of these types and you can write your own express ticket straight out of any acceptable coffee shop alliance. These types will drink coffee outside in any weather. There are so many cafés now that have the obligatory sidewalk seating. At any time of day or night (yes a serious coffee drinker knows that any place worth a look-in must be open till at least four a.m.) you can see the aficionados gathered at the outside tables drinking coffee and eating focaccias and croissants and goats cheese pizzas amidst the petrol fumes of the cars that cruise past oh so slowly to see if any cronies are at the tables. If so, the car will stop, a cool and witty conversation will transpire at the end of which both parties will gaily cry "Ciao!" regardless of whether they are Italian or not.

From the streets now to the ovals. I mean the footy ovals. There is so much eating going on at any Saturday game of Aussie rules it's a wonder that any cheering goes on. Perhaps it doesn't. I haven't been to a live footy match in quite a while but have glimpsed a frame or two on the tube. Perhaps all the crowd sounds are simply dubbed on afterwards. Imagine sitting in an oval surrounded by some 40,000 other punters in near silence with everyone munching on the snack of their choice while still managing to jump up and down, wave their arms in the air and make the occasional rude gesture at the umpy.

However, going back to the times I did attend live footy matches, there were two distinct camps of followers that can be easily sorted into the appropriate group by the type of food they ate at the match. The first lot were those for whom a game just wasn't complete without a couple or three soggy meat pies drowned in tomato sauce eaten at staggered intervals through the match – even if it started at 9am. This crowd would invariably also have brought a well-charged esky full of cold tinnies and would liberally imbibe of them from go to whoa. They would refuse to sit in the stand no matter how rainy it became and would likewise never dream of holding an umbrella or wearing a raincoat. In addition their vocalisations (primarily directed at the hapless umpire) would run along the lines of "Are ya blind?", or "White maggot!!!".

The other distinct group was made up of those who brought their knee rugs, cushions, raincoats, woolly gloves and always sat in the stand. From a picnic basket they would bring out hearty sandwiches such as bacon and egg followed by buttered fingerbuns or a pack of Yo Yo bikkies. They would constantly fill their plastic mugs with hot tea or coffee from their extra large thermoses. They would encourage their team along the lines of "Well done Simmo." and "Keep it up fellas."

I think you begin to get my drift. This categorisation by food begins in an insidious way and at an early age. Think back to your days at school. Was there or was there not a distinct barrier set up between those who brought their lunch to school and those who bought it at the canteen? There was even a subtle difference at my school between those who brought their lunch in a paper bag and those who brought it in a plastic box. So what comes first? The chicken or the egg? The label or the behavior? Because all of this idle conjecture is just another way of putting people into their boxes – of labelling them. And we all do it – consciously or not. Comes with the package deal of belonging to the species homo sapiens methinks.

Ah well – now I've worked up quite an appetite. I'm off to the local Thai-influenced vegetarian art deco ex-fish and chip shop.

I have seen someone eating spaghetti bolognese from a tin foil container with a plastic fork while seemingly going for a new pedestrian land speed record.