Most of us have caught ourselves at one time or another: alone, maybe standing over the kitchen sink, maybe while wearing a bathrobe, possibly shirtless or pantsless, shoving food into our face with no regard for decorum, manners, or even culinary decency. We take huge bites, inhaling a meal’s worth of calories in only a fraction of the time we would take to eat a meal with other people, without plates, and sometimes without the “proper” utensils.
Were we to be caught doing this by someone, or a hidden camera, we might be slightly embarrassed, or even a little ashamed. Also, if your dog sees you doing it, s/he isn’t confused. Dogs understand. They know what you’re doing. Or at least Golden Retrievers do.
This practice is the free soloing of eating. No partners, no plates, sometimes no utensils. It is the purest form of eating, free from the social constraints and pressures of normal eating. Climbers who free solo will tell you it strips climbing to its bare essentials: no gear, just shoes, and maybe some chalk. Free Solo Eating strips eating to its bare essentials: food and a direct path to a hole in your face. Unlike free solo climbing, you will not die if you screw up. Free Solo Eating is a beacon of simplicity in a food culture that’s become cluttered and sometimes confusing.
It’s not a stretch to say many of us are part of a trend of enjoying food experiences that require a little more effort. Have you ever massaged kale? Do you feel better eating part of a cow if your server can tell you which local farm that cow called home until it died? Do you know enough about wine that you order it by year? Do you like it when your food comes out of the restaurant kitchen in a neat little stack? Do you use the word “notes” to describe a cup of coffee?
Those things are all wonderful. But so is lowering your standards every once in a while, and cooking something of such uncertain quantity that you would never present it to someone else as “food.” If you ask yourself, “Can I just put these three things on top of some tortilla chips and call that ‘dinner’?” the answer is Yes. “Is it OK if I eat this directly out of the pan instead of putting it on a plate?” Also Yes.
Are you surprised when it’s, ahem, actually not that good? Don’t be. Find the hot sauce, cover the food in it, and resume eating. Now it tastes like hot sauce, which you like. You can drink wine out of a coffee mug, eat Chinese takeout with a spoon, and drink soup instead of spooning it into your mouth (which takes for-goddamn-ever). There are no rules in Free Solo Eating, no point system, and no judges.
Like free solo climbing, free solo eating is an intensely personal experience, but you can choose to share it. You can say things like “I only free solo food I have dialed, that I’ve eaten a dozen times before, and know all the moves,” or “Let me call you back; I’m about to free solo this whole bag of Funyuns.” Take a photo of your makeshift nachos and upload it to Instagram with the geotag “Over The Kitchen Sink” and the caption “Free soloing this now, no big deal.” If you want to more subtly let people know you’re free solo eating, go to the grocery store, purchase only a frozen pizza between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and carry it out without a bag. Make eye contact with other people, and/or say things like “this guy knows what I’m talking about” as you point at them.
Sometimes you don’t have, or want to spend, the time to correctly massage your vegetables, or make a reduction sauce, or even wait for the oven to finish preheating and then cooking your food fully. Maybe because you are devoting that time to planning a trip or learning photography or watching The Voice—it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you need calories, with no bullshit. No 45 minutes waiting for a table, no cloth napkin origami, no square plates. Just put that shit in your face and move on.
Channel your inner Cookie Monster and instead of considering how you might describe the food to someone else with table manners. Lean over the sink, take a big bite, and repeat the mantra: nom nom nom nom.