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What it Means to Eat All You Can: The Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics of Buffets, with Simon Feldman and Allan Hazlett
An Interview and Lecture Preview with Simon Feldman
Buffet eating may seem like the simplest form of food service (get up, grab a plate, pick what you want, sit down, eat). However, after speaking to Simon Feldman, I realized it is much more complex than it looks.
Simon, one of the philosophers speaking on buffets for our next I Feel Voxish series, brought up the concept of “entree envy,” and prefaced it by saying some might be familiar with the term. Its definition; the feeling of dissatisfaction with your meal at the sight of somebody else’s. Relatable, I thought. Simon asks, “Why wouldn’t someone want to see one’s food, in physical form, before ordering it?” He said this is something that he and Allan like about buffets, the possibility of eliminating dissatisfaction altogether.
Simon and Allan became interested in buffets about thirteen years ago in graduate school. With a tight budget they looked for alternatives to dining out, “the idea of decadent abundance was naturally appealing. But as philosophers, it’s always hard not to start theorizing about everything! So, of course, we did.” Simon is now Associate Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Connecticut College, and Allan is a Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis who also serves on the editorial board of Philosophical Quarterly.
In their free time, they travel the world to eat at buffets. Since 2005, they have sampled buffets in twenty-one states and seven countries. When I asked Simon for a story, he shared with me an anecdote that truly revealed the peculiarity of their passion. On a hot August morning in Paris, the buffet that Simon and Allan were planning to attend was unexpectedly closed. Instead of settling for one of the many cafés next door (there are over 7,000 cafés in Paris), he and Simon spent the morning calling around to various hotels asking if they had a brunch buffet. He remarks, “There was somehow something very embarrassing about it, very absurd.” I figured the last thing the folks on the other line were thinking was that these Americans were philosophers fascinated with buffets. Simon comments on the awkwardness of the situation, as they were probably understood as hungry and gluttonous tourists, “how does one explain on the phone to a concierge that we absolutely must have a buffet?”
Do Simon and Allan encourage their philosophy students to eat at buffets? He said they do not necessarily recommend “anyone” eat at a buffet, because it is not something easy to do. My reaction was to laugh ironically, why is this hard to do? He said there is “no benefit of buffeting if you don’t do it seriously and properly.” Somehow, I felt extremely trustful of Simon’s opinion on buffet eating. Perhaps you should rethink the way you eat at buffets and ask yourself if you take them seriously enough— you may be doing it all wrong.
Simon Feldman and Allan Hazlett will be speaking at MMoA’s 15 Water Street Gallery on Thursday, October 12 from 5:30-7pm. Local food, wine, and beer will be served (sorry though, it’s not a buffet).
By Annika Burgess, MMoA Press & Marketing Intern
Tickets: $8 members, $10 non-member
I Feel Voxish is sponsored by the-E-List.com, Barley Head Brewery, and Cato Corner Farm