March 24, 2013
Today’s topic in food ethics is the proper way to eat watermelon. I know this is out of season, but cut me some slack. I’m going to assume that the proper way to serve watermelon is with the rind on, cut in a semi-circle or some portion thereof. None of this salad-style stuff for us! How can you make watermelon teeth if there’s no rind?
Explaining watermelon teeth for the uninitiated would take me off on a tangent that truly is better saved for summertime. The driving food ethics question is: Do you work around the bits that are close to the rind, saving the tastier bits that came from the center of the watermelon for last? Or do you go straight to the heart (of the melon, that is)? I’ve always been one of those “Save the best for last types.” My Grandaddy Thompson and my father-in-law Paul Lanier always dug in for the richest, tastiest bites right out of the box. I think this may be one of the fundamental metaphysical divides in human nature.
Now some of you technical types may be saying to yourselves, “Now this isn’t really a question in food ethics at all. At most it’s a matter of aesthetics.” But again I say, cut me some slack here. That, too, is a tangent better served in a warmer season. And were it actually watermelon time in Michigan, I would be begging that watermelon rather than slack be cut. But as you will note from the date atop the page (whenever it is you happen to be reading this), it is late March as I’m writing it. It’s the time of the year that the only watermelon you’re going to get will be at some lousy hotel or cafeteria buffet. And for that kind of watermelon the questions I’m pondering today are pretty much irrelevant.
I must confess that I take “save the best for last” to ridiculous extremes. I have favorite dishes, and by this I don’t mean favorite recipes, but favorite plates and bowls from which my porridge or cottage cheese to eat. Being of the male persuasion, my expectation is that I will gradually use all the plates and bowls in the cupboard before loading them in the dishwasher. No use wasting water, I say. Accordingly, “saving the best for last” means that I use my least preferred bowls and plates first, expecting that I will get around to the pleasure of eating my Grape Nuts from that special blue bowl sometime later in the week when the sink is clogged with all the un-favored dirty bowls awaiting the weekly (or was it monthly?) wash. Trouble is, I live with someone obsessed by a bizarre fixation on tidiness, or maybe it is cleanliness (which, after all, is next to Godliness). She’s always snatching up those dirty beige bowls almost as quickly as I can soil them, rinsing them out and running the dishwasher. I go back to the cupboard expecting that I’ll reap the rewards of my abstemiousness. The best is now available to be had, I’m thinking, but there are heaps of beige bowls still in line for use before I have my chance at the favorite blue one.
So now I’m rethinking my lifelong commitment to saving the best for last. I’m thinking that the next time watermelon season rolls around, I’m going straight to the heart. I think I’ll be a better person for it.
You see, there was a food ethics theme here after all.
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University.