Over the course of two consecutive nights, a Thursday and a Friday, I’ve been to three different relative households and was fed a diverse cast of savories, sweets, coffees, and teas. I’ve sat at tables and on floor spreads that were decorated with plates carrying rice and meats dishes, large platters of quesadillas and kibbeh, bowls of colorful salads, and scattered trays of dates for breaking fast and melon for a mid-meal palate cleanser. I’ve started a meal with a soup dotted with pearl couscous, and ended another with individually wrapped stuffed dates, shortly followed by famously syrup-soaked basbousa, followed by more stuffed dates of a different variety. I’ve taken leftover lamb biryani and a chicken aloo dish from a feast I didn’t join, but to which I brought a sourdough apple crumble cake to. I ate a slice of that cake, and then took three more home. There was a commercially avant-garde tiramisu that looked better than it tasted, a phyllo-crust cheesecake, sliced mango, and more syrup-soaked goods that complete the tables of most homes during Ramadan, one of which came from a business whose recent partner fall-out has compromised the quality of food. Needless to say, there was plenty.
There’s a lot of that food that I can’t account for, and some for which I can. We’ve had the biryani for dinner tonight, and yesterday, chicken aloo. We’ve finished off the last of the apple crumble cake, which has retained its flavor slice after slice, especially alongside a 7pm cup of black coffee with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon that my mother has freshly ground and sent to us. Since those two nights, we’ve acquired a box of mini assorted pastry goods in our humble household of two—so goes our Saturday ritual—and five remain to be finished off. Still, a final square of kibbeh layered with minced meat, beans, and citrusy greens sits in a disposable yet reusable container in our refrigerator. Last night, I was offered more rice and meats for today—this time, it would be fresh—but declined, kindly and overwhelmed, at the prospect of having more food before we finished what we already have.
Abundance is not a bad thing, until it is multiplied into a material state of overabundance. It becomes hard to distinguish the former when we adapt to seeing the latter as a constant norm, as when the lack of extra plated food becomes abnormal… it becomes not enough. The reliance on seeing more when we already have plenty, reveals a dependence beyond survival. The gathering of people and food is generous, and seeing generosity and being amongst it feels like a kind of social success. When we gather, and there’s a lot around us with the potential to be consumed, we gain a material cushioning that makes life itself feel alive. More is more, is more.
A social and emotional dependence on superfluous consumption is also not a bad thing. At least, not inherently. But without thoughtful choices, and fueled by the expectance to show more, we may end up biting more than we can chew. Meaning, if people need a grazing table of fifty cheeses scattered around rosemary herbs that no one will nibble on to call it a party—there’s something wrong with the definition of party. These habits encourage waste, or force material responsibility…but I’m willing to bet that no one’s using those sprigs of rosemary to make potatoes the next day. There’s an undefinable fine line between generosity and excess. That line is subjective to time, place, and person.
I’m a sucker for less. That doesn’t mean higher quality anything… it means loving the joys of a meal made up of bread and cheese. I’m also a sucker for leftovers. But that doesn’t mean stale and microwaved… it means hailing the same effort it takes to make a meal from scratch. Heating on the stove. Adding water to bring back moisture content. Plating a side of greens to compliment the dish, maybe a spoon of greek yogurt if it’s spicy (that’s my favorite way to have leftovers). Serving it as if it was made today. Differently. Newly. Thoughtfully. Not more in that sense, but more in this sense.
Photograph by Yasmeen Khaja