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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mild and mannerly is no way to eat

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

Birds do it. Pigs do it. Everybody does it.

Eat, I mean.

However, nobody does it in the same way. The question is: Where do you end up on the Snarfing Styles list?

After extensive research on this subject – yes, I spend my spare time watching people eat – I have noticed that variations on eating styles fall into several major categories:

Speed – There are bolters, who wolf down everything as fast as possible, as if some eating referee might show up and whisk away their garlic mashed potatoes at the 30-second alarm siren.

Then there are the thoughtful, deliberate chewers, who slowly masticate their way through dinner, just the way their mothers taught them. Their routine goes something like this: Fork to mouth, 15 thorough chews, swallow, assemble next bite on fork, slowly lift to mouth, 15 thorough chews …

Yeah, it’s enough to drive the bolters crazy, who have to sit there for a half-hour and wait for these more-decorous cud-chewers.

Neatness – This is the issue that causes problems with the more carefree eaters. They tend to get sloppy with the fork, causing little rivulets of sirloin juice to come running out the side of their mouths.

Some people take this even further, managing to get entire baked beans lodged in their mustaches. And men aren’t the only culprits. I’ve seen plenty of women get baked beans lodged in their mustaches, too,

I will admit that my family considers me a notoriously sloppy eater. I believe this is an unfair stereotype. Just because I once ended up with turkey gravy in my right eyebrow doesn’t mean I’m a glutton. There was splashage.

Size of bite – This is closely related to neatness, since people who take smaller bites tend to get less food in their hair. Many people believe that a bite isn’t really a bite unless it causes the cheeks to puff like a blowfish. God made our cheeks elastic for a reason, didn’t he?

Others, of course, go to the opposite extreme and cut their beef tenderloin into tiny pieces the size of Scrabble tiles, thus reducing a $10-per-pound cut of steak into ground beef.

Style of fork-work – The variations are widest with spaghetti, which can be (1) twirled around a fork, (2) cut into bite-sized sections, (3) raised to the mouth and slurped or (4) jammed into the mouth with both hands (see “Neatness,” above).

Beyond this, there are many other individual variations. Some people eat fried chicken or french fries with their forks rather than their fingers, because they are either excessively fussy or unaware that they live in America, where anything can be considered finger food, even tomato soup.

Mixing vs. segregating – Some people carefully separate their food into zones, never allowing the peas to touch the mashed potatoes. Others mix it all into a big goulash, which can become an aesthetic problem when you end up with your squid, for instance, mooshed in with your brownie.

Degree of concentration – Some people consider dinner a religious rite, to which they devote all of their concentration. They keep their eyes on the plate and their thoughts on issues such as, “Is that romano cheese in the sauce? Or parmigiano?”

Others consider dinner a strictly social occasion and devote their attention to sparkling conversation and amiable friendship. Five minutes later, they couldn’t tell you whether they just dined on baby arugula greens or a bag of Pork Rinds or a “fusion-cuisine” combination of both.

Put all of these categories together, and the combinations are nearly endless. Some people manage the most unlikely variations. Last week, I watched my brother virtually inhale a giant platter of Fettuccini Alfredo at Geno’s in Spokane, which isn’t amazing by itself. It just means he rates a 10 out of 10 in the Speed category (it runs in the family).

The amazing part is, he accomplished this while also talking non-stop, giving him a zero out of 10 in Degree of Concentration. So he achieved a rare dining “double,” which, frankly, left me in awe.

As for my Snarfing Style, I’m afraid it’s far more common. With high scores on Speed and Size of Bite and dismal scores on Neatness, it all adds up to the mathematical result known as “Pig.” At least it’s not “Bird.”

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