News Brendan O’Connor

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Gorging at the buffet is difficult to digest

Brendan O'Connor

Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30

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BOUNTY: We Irish, brought up being told what we like, don't have the discipline for a buffet

I am actually now thinking that they have in some way fixed the scales in the hotel, that they sneakily take them down a few kilos each day so they don't reflect people's true weight gain. I have apparently only put on two kilos since I got here three days ago. But that can't be right. I am expanding at a much faster rate than that.

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My problem is two fold. Firstly, I am in Italy and the food is good and, secondly, there is a buffet. In fact, there is a buffet at two-thirds of the meals I am eating. At lunch you pay for what you eat so I tend to practise some restraint and order just the one thing. Not that this helps. Because it tends to be pizza. Which is obviously not normally what I have for lunch. Pizza would normally be some kind of weekend break-out treat. But here it is, the most abstemious of my meals. Here, it is practically a collation, a mere trifle to tide me over between the two major meals of the day. It is also my only single-course meal, though I will augment it by picking at other people's pasta.

You are all familiar with the problem I have here, because it is the curse of the Irishman abroad. We all grew up in large families where you ate what you were given and what you were given was what you ate. Food was divided up between the family according to seniority, with one exception. Mum came last. And the dinner was put on your plate, and that's what you ate. There was none of this nonsense of food being put out in bowls and people helping themselves. Like that was going to work. There would have been war. And war is not a good thing when people have knives and forks.

Now you could argue that the result might have been much the same, with Dad getting the most, and everyone down along managing to corral slightly less, right down to Mum, who eats the burnt scraps. But no one took chances. The food was doled out in an orderly fashion. A man who has grown up with this system, where his mother tells him how much he needs to eat, and indeed what he likes and doesn't like, is not prepared for the buffet system. We were not reared to develop the kind of disciplined relationship with choice required at the buffet. Our mother isn't there to tell us how much we need and what we like, so we basically need to try everything and try too much of it.

So you better fill up a plateful of that weird looking seafood salad thing and at the end sheepishly hand the untouched plate of it to the waitress as she looks disapprovingly at you. While other people around you take a speck of this and that, and foolishly just have one starter, one restrained main course and possibly no dessert.

Are they crazy? Do they understand it's all free and you need to get the value? Do they understand this is the only way to get one up on the hotel? Do they understand that you should try new things? Do they understand that you might like something and it could be all gone when you come back, so you better get loads of it first time around? Do they understand that they are on their holidays? Eejits.

I am managing to practise some restraint on this holiday. Lately, I am staying away from bread in the evening. Admittedly I'm eating enough bread for three meals in the morning. But if there are massive platters of freshly made mini doughnuts, what else can you do but eat them until you feel sick? And I should add that I don't touch a doughnut until I have eaten some fruit and some eggs and toast. The lunchtime pizza doesn't even strictly count as bread.

And in the evening, no bread. And luckily the Italians don't do potatoes very well. So I'm practically on some version of the Atkins at night. Apart from the booze.

But then, just when you're doing well, having restricted yourself to only one large plate of starters and one main course, you get complacent and eat two desserts, and one of them is a self-served portion of tiramisu that you ended up finishing only because you need to prove a point. And just when you think you're going to get sick, one of the children doesn't touch her ice cream. And if there was one thing we all got from our mothers, it's that we hate waste. So down the hatch it goes.

I feel sick and I kind of hate myself. We are half way into the holiday. Tomorrow I will do it differently. And if I don't, I may need to ask the staff for help: like no matter how hard I ask, they need to ration me.

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