The entirety of the five-person-strong Kuperberg family was home over winter break, and accordingly the group engaged in several of its favorite pastimes: watching television, going to the hospital at least once and arguing over the authenticity of certain Boggle words. But no hobby reigns more powerfully or with as much importance in our family as the Dinner Debate. My family’s process of deciding what to eat for dinner has much in common with Congress’s process of ratifying a bill: unnecessarily slow, fueled by back-dealings and laced with obscenities among its senior members. Back at Yale, I simply eat whatever’s waiting for me in Pierson between five and seven, but occasionally I find myself homesick, missing our especially unique family tradition.
The first matter of business to attend to is determining who is hungry. The feelings range from “ready to eat dinner” to “just a little hungry, but could wait a half hour” to “you’re blocking the TV, Mom.” It is concluded that everyone is on a different “Food Time Zone,” and while compromises are few and far between, accusations are not. “Who let Matthew snack on crackers all afternoon?” bellows my hungry father, while my 9-year-old brother guiltily wipes the latest crumbs off his face. “I ate breakfast an hour ago, I can’t even think of eating dinner yet,” I add. Agreements are not reached; nothing is decided. “I would love Indian food,” my mother mentions.
The quorum reconvenes. On the side of eating immediately are my father and my 18-year-old brother Jonathan. “I am literally dying of hunger,” Jonathan moans as he flips through over a thousand high-definition television channels. Though Jonathan’s life is at stake, we reach a concordat that we will talk again at six. “Does anyone else want Indian food?” my mother asks quietly.
Everyone is now hungry, especially Jonathan, who comments that if he does not eat soon he is “going to starve to death.” The first decision to be made is whether to eat out or get delivery. Pros and cons for each side are offered. Cheap paper menus are brought out and discarded. Whether the car(s) have sufficient gas is discussed. My mother sits in the corner, carefully examining the “Royal India” menu by herself.
Eating out has been ruled moot, as it is now 6:30 on a Saturday night and no one can stomach waiting an hour for a table at any respectable restaurant. “You still have that buzzer from P. F. Chang’s in your glove compartment from the last time we tried to do that but got impatient,” Jonathan says. “No I don’t,” my father lies.
As everyone is now hungry, the entree of the argument is served: what actual type of cuisine to order. “We each get one veto vote,” I suggest. “Use it wisely.” Surprisingly, this veto rule is implemented (none of this is a joke). My mother vetoes Japanese, my father vetoes Thai, Jonathan vetoes Indian, Matthew vetoes Mexican, and I veto Chinese. We marvel at how no one has vetoed the same cuisine.
My father breaks the previously held agreement that the vetoes are final, bringing up the possibility of Chinese food. “You’re the only person I have ever met who doesn’t like Chinese food, Ethan. But EVERYBODY likes Chinese food.” The seemingly paradoxical quality of these two statements would be enough to stump Zeno, but my father attempts to reconcile them regardless, launching into a lengthy monologue about his long-held love of Chinese cuisine. “Dad, I’ll eat Chow Mein, but I don’t really like much else,” I offer. Matthew leaves the room to play with his “Lil Magician’s Set of Tricks” Chanukah present.
“If some girl wanted to get Chinese food with you, I’m sure you would eat it then,” my father accuses. “If eating Chinese food was all I needed to get attention from girls, I would change my name to Spring Roll,” I respond pointedly. Matthew demonstrates a card trick to lighten the mood; the eight of hearts remains missing.
Deliberations have stalled. Jonathan’s veto on Japanese has been graciously lifted, but everyone is now “too hungry for sushi.” My father, well past his breaking point, slams his fist onto the coffee table. “Do you have some sort of psychological barrier against Chinese food?” he demands. Jonathan claims he is “in a coma.” Playing cards are everywhere. “You know what’s a great Indian dish? Chicken tikka masala,” my mother mentions.
A five minute silence.
“Fine.” I finally say. “If everyone else wants it, I’ll eat Chinese food.” Though the self-sacrifice is extreme, I am eager to demonstrate to my family how much I have grown in college, and additionally, I really want a Canon Rebel digital SLR camera for my upcoming birthday and I am hoping my martyrdom will be remembered.
As everyone is too exhausted to decide what to order, my father picks his favorite five dishes. The phone call is made; the place is closed. We order a pizza. “Is everyone alright with mushrooms?” my father asks. Jonathan faints.