May 21, 2021

Dinner Time Can Be As Transactional as Situational

Whose body clocks force them to sup at 4:30?

By Ed Goldman
Is there a certain age at which our bodies demand they be fed on Midwest time? I’m mostly serious (and the other 60 percent is water, as we know from Biology 101.)

When does the mandate to have dinner between the hours of 4:30 and 5:45 p.m. kick in? Is it the same approximate year that women who’ve always worn their hair long think it’s suddenly “too young,” and men start wearing cargo shorts with dark socks and loafers?

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Do we start eating dinner so early at a certain age to make time for the frolicking evening to follow (TV! Scrabble! Uno!)—or to feel satisfyingly full when we climb into bed at 9:30, still cursing the fact that there’s no local newscast at 8:30 p.m.?

Who or what is to blame for the foreshortening of our body clocks? Is it the lure of senior supper specials at Denny’s, iHop and the like—or are the restaurant chains simply responding to market reality, algorithm data and a suspicion that seniors will eat even food left over from lunch two days ago if you provide large enough portions and doggie bags?

Movie theaters may also be culpable. Some of them offer deep matinee discounts to seniors—many of whom probably can better afford to pay full price than the working-class families who frequent them on a regular basis, blowing half their paychecks on vats of popcorn dripping with melted lard, washed down with barrels of watered-down soda.

I suppose the afternoon time slot makes sense. I mean, you’re not likely to find a member of AARP at a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” (Unless it’s me—but never in a Dr. Frank N. Furter costume and full living-dead make-up. That would just be silly.)

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What makes our bodies feel, as they age, that their nighttime nourishment must occur while it’s still light outside? Did we learn nothing from when we were little kids and every summer hated being tucked into our beds in our shortie PJs before the sun went down? We could hear the slightly older kids still playing outside, which fueled our curiosity and made us want to age at least two or three years overnight. Needless to say, at a certain point in our lives this is a dream we abandon. After all, who wants to enter their 70s when they’re still 67?

I’ll admit that I don’t miss the dinnertimes of my young- and even middle-adult years, when I thought nothing of eating a pepperoni pizza with extra red peppers at midnight (when my shift at the newspaper had just ended)—or of consuming multiple cups of thick Turkish coffee at 2 a.m. because this was right after my friends and I had caught a late-night screening of a foreign movie and now simply had to discuss it to death, making sure we used words like “existential,” “dream-like” and “ultimately, flawed” to prove our intellectual chops. 

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These days, if I eat something with only ketchup on it after 9 p.m., I repeatedly awaken from nightmares and drive up the dividends for those who hold shares of TUMS Ultra-Strength tablets. (Try the ones that taste like Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit® chewing gum! I promise they’ll not only calm down your stomach but also help you kick your addiction to Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit® chewing gum.)

A friend tells me that when she was raising her children she hired a nanny who eventually resigned, leaving a note on the car saying the family ate dinner much too late. I’m guessing the nanny was from the Midwest.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).