Share and share alike

Kellie Magnus can’t understand “plate-sharing” — until she’s on the receiving end

Illustration by James Hackett

I came home recently to find my father eating a pack of Cheese Krunchies. It was dinnertime. “I was hungry,” he said, as though an explanation were required, “and there was no one here to share my dinner.”

My father is, by all accounts, a fully functioning adult. He has two arms and two legs and, evidently, the fine motor skills required to open a vacuum-sealed plastic package. “Sharing” his dinner is, however, not in his repertoire.

I knew better than to broach the subject, but I am as wilful as he and, besides, plate-sharing — Jamaican slang for serving a meal — is a subject of endless fascination for me. There’s no sharing about it. It’s service. One way: female to male. And I am as allergic to plate-sharing as my father is addicted to it. I once broke up with a man, whom my mother later christened Hot Meal, over my refusal to share his plate. We had a stare-off at a dinner party over a platter of fried chicken and as I grudgingly slammed the bird onto his plate the fate of our relationship was sealed.

I had to get my father’s reasoning.

“I have a good wife,” he began. “Why should I be sharing my dinner?” He says it with a sense of conclusion that baffles me. Never mind that his dinner was next to the Cheese Krunchies. Never mind that he works four hours a day to my step-mother’s eight.

“And besides,” he went on. “She loves to share my dinner. Why would I take that away from her?”

I’d like to dismiss it as a generational thing, but my sister is a born plate-sharer. There is a joy in her eyes as she patters around the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, serving her partner’s dinner. But, then again, she grew up with the mother of all plate-sharers and a father who would go days without eating rather than serve himself. If my father had stayed married to my mother, he would have starved to death. Thankfully, they parted, and he went on his shared-plate future.

I understand my sister’s plate-sharing, but my best friend baffles me. She is not in the least a submissive wife. But she, too, is an inveterate plate-sharer. “Of course I share my husband’s dinner. I’ve always done it. He loves it. It’s a very personal thing, serving somebody’s food. He wouldn’t let just anybody do it.

”This idea of plate-sharing as a gift to the woman — I don’t get it.

It’s possible that I developed an aversion to plate-sharing as a child, some kind of viral disease, like chicken pox, that scars you for life. I have a blurry memory of Christmas dinners: the men seated, backsides glued by rum to their chairs. The women — my grandmother, stepmother, and aunts — milling around the table, sharing the men’s dinners, then the children’s, then their own. I know my mother must have helped my brother and me, but my memory is of her sitting, eating, giggling.

Forget the plate sharers. I was going to be a giggler.

I once experimented with plate-sharing with a man my friends nicknamed Cupcake. Cupcake was a fan of take-out, and never asked me to cook a meal. One day, he brought home dinner, only to find that I had already cooked. A look of pure joy washed over his face as I served him grilled salmon. The next night he received my curried shrimp with outstretched arms and rapturous eyes. I doled out jerk chicken and pan-seared scallops and turkey lasagna. Cupcake greeted each meal as though he’d won the lottery. I moved my laptop into the kitchen.

One Sunday I made cupcakes — chocolate with cinnamon and vanilla. Cupcake practically moved in. The next Sunday he asked for cupcakes again. “It’s our tradition,” he said. And so it became, to the consternation of my friends.

Unfortunately, Cupcake liked to have his cake and eat it too. He took to sharing meals and more with the Japanese girl down the hall. I threw out the cupcakes — the man and the muffins — and I stopped sharing plates. It made little difference in New York, where my social and dating lives revolved around eating out, but back home in Jamaica, I sense I’ll have to come to terms with my plate-sharing fears.

At brunch recently I felt a wave of nausea as my date and I approached the buffet. We are just getting to know each other, and I don’t know what the rules are here for when I’m expected to put out with the serving spoon. My instinct was to avoid the issue altogether. Dart ahead and serve myself? Lag behind and let him start before me? We reached the table at the same time. Each of us picked up a plate and served ourselves.

He scanned mine, unimpressed. “You missed something,” he said, heaping bananas and dumplings unto my plate.

Later, we went back for dessert. Before I could decide between the chocolate cake and the carrot cake, he handed me a plate with a healthy slice of each.

Is my aversion to plate-sharing curable? Possibly. This may be just the pill.