The Buffet Mentality
As human beings living in the 21st century, we have evolved, adapted and invented so much that we are practically unrecognisable from the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals of times gone by. Yet despite the neatly-pressed shirts and carefully-sculpted coiffures of modern man, there are still the odd visible, visceral reminders that, like-it-or-not, we remain members of the animal kingdom, with all the carnal desires of the flesh being characteristic of the savages that we truly are. This unsavoury fact is never more obvious than when we’re surrounded by savoury foodstuffs. Particularly unlimited, unmanned, savoury foodstuffs.
Yes, I’m talking BUFFETS.
A buffet has the curious ability to bring out each of the seven deadly sins submerged just beneath the surface of our psyches, which are ordinarily forced down by our carefully-constructed charismatic public personas.
Lurking under that smiling exterior lie gluttony, sloth, wrath, lust, envy….all triggered by the dreaded b-word. Actually, there is one sin a buffet doesn’t encourage. Pride. After all, there’s nothing to be proud of whilst foraging nose-first in a tray of prawn vol-au-vents like some kind of demented sniffer-dog. The other six sins are, however, in full effect: vultures dismantle their prey with more compassion than your dad attacking the barbeque chicken wings, or that chunky aunt chugging down chicken nuggets without chewing, pelican-stylee.
The merest mention of the word buffet gets my salivary glands a-juicing and my elbows sharpened, ready to jab and poke my way to the profiterole tower. The second that paper plate is thrust into my hands I shrug off my deferential demeanour and the inner demon is revealed : beady eyes narrowed as I hone in on that cold quiche slice, dodging Aunt Nelly at the wedding as she slides into my peripheral vision to strike up polite conversation, focused instead of getting that oleaginous object onto my piled-high plate double-quick. To hell with the fact that I’d never ordinarily get within spitting distance of a quiche. This is a buffet. No rules apply.
As I load up my quivering plate with carby goodness, my only aim is to devour the lot pronto, so I discard the used (pasta) shells and reload the ammo immediately. Because as we all know, if it’s not a sit-down meal, the calories don’t count. You can slip those cocktail sausages down your gullet in gay abandon whilst absent-mindedly checking out the Best Man’s behind, but if you don’t chew them properly, the badness doesn’t stick to your butt-cheeks. Or something like that.
It took me years to comprehend that liquids could be fattening. It just seems so WRONG that wine can make you fat, I whined. How can a cheeky champers turn you into a chubmeister? It sounded preposterous to me. The same is true of buffets: a nibble of nuts here, a scoff of crisps there…surely there can’t be calories in a pretzel? They’re made from wood, no? Hmm. I mulled this over with a mouthful.
Anyway, it matters not. There’s no point protesting. The glint from a silver-plated serving tray never fails to catch my eye. The pull of the platter is as strong as a magnet and we are merely the iron filings being sucked towards it, helpless. There’s no point in pondering it, just succumb to your basic, beastly instincts and plough right on in: strip those chicken satay sticks with gnashers bared, devour those sexy sweet-and-sour ribs with a shrug.
“What?” You say, all innocence, as the slimy sauce drips from your lips onto your dry-clean-only dress. “I’m merely an animal, after all…”
Where I come from, “All You Can Eat” is a challenge. No self-respecting ‘Sarf-East Landan’ lass is going to pat her tiny tum and demur softly, mumbling shyly about being stuffed as she nudges a limp lettuce leaf around the plate. Ooooh no. We like our nosh. And we like it unlimited.
I’ve had to draw the line lately though. I simply can’t go on those ‘All-Inclusive’ package holidays any more. No matter how long I’ve spent primping and preening in the plush hotel room, the second I sashay into the rammed restaurant for our evening feed I’m transformed into a carnivorous beast : my pinkly-manicured nails become grasping claws, my glossed lips curl back from previously flossed molars to reveal blood-thirsty fangs.
It’s like the Teen Wolf transformation, only not as cute : this is a crucial mission to consume the contents of every container. The Egyptian catering staff roll their eyes, before fleeing under tables as they realise the situation is becoming serious. This is battery-farming on an industrial scale, only the cute fluffy chickies have been replaced with ravenous Ruskies. The armed hotel guards in Sharm aren’t just there to keep terrorists out, they are primed for the potential carnage at the meat-carving section of the buffet.
Silver serving dish-lids clatter noisily as I struggle to slap the entire selection onto my plate. Spaghetti strands fly, meatballs become missiles. Starters, mains and sides mingle in a mountain of mis-matched munch. Desserts are decimated. If I don’t like it, no matter, it’s discarded. There’s plenty more where that came from….
Or is there?
I catch sight of a bun-fight between Russia and England at the cheesecake table. Tensions are heightened due to the volume of cheap free-flowing local spirits consumed around the pool this afternoon. Andrei and Andy are arm-wrestling for the last helping of tiramisu.
Afterwards, I’m spent: incapable of dancing the night away in my usual fashion as my burgeoning girth is fit to burst. I’d probably break the bar if I attempted to dance on it here.
The sickly-sweet wafts of the shisha smoke are curling up into my nostrils and curdling the contents of my jelly-belly. And besides, I reason, we need an early night so we can rise at dawn for the best seats at breakfast….
This must no longer happen.
As an alcoholic avoids pubs for ever more, so a buffet fiend must distance themselves from the dining area. These days, I avoid all-inclusives at all costs. It may be a bargain, but what price your dignity?
Despite this strict rule, last night I slipped up.
Dear reader, I must confess. I fell off the wagon. The wheels came off the bite-sized bicycle. Throughout my day at work I kept having impure thoughts about bountiful buffets. I knew it was wrong. I tried to resist but the lure of the limitless legumes and four-meats mountain was too strong. Like a rip-tide pulling me out to sea, the tug towards the Toby was Just. Too. Much.
Eventually, I picked up the phone to Andy, my no-buffet sponsor, to plead for support. But it was no use. The thrill of the grill had got to him too. Like a couple of zombies, we drove full-throttle to the local carvery. The anticipation was palpable. We could almost sense the salty gammon, taste the tangy-mustard mash. The crispy roast potatoes were calling our names. We followed our twitchy nozzles like a couple of hypnotised Seventies Bisto kids.
To avoid the masses, I’d feverishly booked online. As I pass the menacing-looking oik with straining Staffy in the car park, it’s all I can do not to whip the dog’s muzzle off and strap it to my face in one last-ditch bid to avoid this buffet.
The sea of tracksuit-clad chavs parted obediently as we were led straight to our table. They’d had the foresight to wear their elasticated waistbands, but obviously not the nouse to avoid waiting in line. Gutted. Pass me the gut-buster dustbin-lid of a plate, I’m going in!
Staggering under the weight of the almighty self-service roast dinner, there’s just space for lashings of gravy in the hollow of my humungous Yorkshire pudding. I am the Dyson of the buffet world. It won’t take long to inhale this badboy and get my fix.
“What’s that, Mum?” asks a moody-looking tweenager of about 12 years old, prodding the sloppy Dauphinoise potatoes suspiciously. “It’s, errr…Dolphin-ese, love,” she replies, leaving her daughter curling her lip at the unethically-sourced dolphin paste in disgust.
We retake our seats and tuck in, eyes rolling back in our heads, as the full-on flavours take hold. The fact that it’s cheap adds a certain ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’. Looking at the low price tag displayed on the menu as we chew rapturously adds an extra dimension of satisfaction to the experience. I take a sidelong glance at our fellow buffet-munchers. Telltale muffin-tops curl over ‘skinny’ (yeah, right) jeans, purchased solely because that was the only way the word skinny could ever shoehorn it’s way into their day-to-day vocabulary.
Parents are piling toddlers plates into a volcano: even the podgy baby wedged into a highchair has beef gravy in it’s bottle and a mushy roastie clamped in it’s mitts. Doggy bags are slipped into weekender-scale holdalls for the pooches back home, who patiently await their owner’s return, ready to rip into the meal face-first in a similar fashion to their beloved leaders the second they step over the threshold.
Even the frail elderly couple, rail-thin, who look like they have the appetites of anorexic sparrows are buckling under the weight of the plate as they stagger bow-legged back to their table.
Soon, the plates are licked clean.
Afterwards we’re racked with guilt at our gluttony, as the meat-sweats kick in.
But not so much that we turn down a strawberry-cheesecake sundae, dabbing at our sweaty brows with the cheap paper napkins.
You see, when I see the neon-lit Toby sign at Badger’s Mount in Sevenoaks, it’s like a red rag to a bull. A hungry, angry bull. And I get very hangry indeed.
No more buffet-snuffling.
This just will not do.
I’ve got a girly holiday fast approaching. At this rate I might accidentally inhale a few of my Skinny Minny mates at dinnertime. I need to be bikini-ready, not buffet-ready.
From now on I’m giving the buffets a wide berth. For the sake of my girth. Andy and I drive home from the carvery in silence, ashamed.
We’ve agreed, we’re going cold turkey.