“Peer pressure,” if you came of age at the height of the massively ineffective D.A.R.E. program, conjured fears of worldly teenagers forcing you to smoke weed until your liquefied brain came oozing out of your ears. When it came time to resist the illicit cool of drugs, we were taught, it would be fellow youths to whom we had to “Just Say No.” My own experience did not entirely bear this out, as I was not even relevant enough in high school to be offered intoxicants, let alone persuaded to try them. There was little incentive for a pothead to share his stash with some random nerd.
But that doesn’t mean peer pressure doesn’t exist. Throughout our lives, we are made to conform to various groups, often without realizing we’ve been influenced this way. If the educational system had seen fit to warn us of what other self-destructive behaviors our friends might encourage, perhaps we’d be different people today.
Instead, we are trapped by a dire and communally reinforced addiction: constantly going out to eat.
Ah, the restaurant meal. An endlessly compelling form of luxury. Or is it? Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know the reasons not to eat out: It’s expensive, and I’ll eat more than I really want to, and I don’t need to outsource the preparation of avocado toast. If I’m by myself — at home, for example — I can hew to this reasoning and avoid walking down the block for a $15 bowl of ramen (plus a couple pints of Sapporo). But throw me into a social dynamic, like the office or a weekend hang with some buddies, and I can’t drop money on Korean tacos fast enough. Doesn’t matter if I ate an hour ago. Brought leftovers for lunch? They’ll keep. That uneasy strain in my chest that could be an impending heart attack: better fight it with another grass-fed, custom-built cheeseburger.
Once you give in, of course, the indulgence really takes grip. Yeah, let’s definitely split some appetizers. Another round of drinks here. May as well look at the dessert menu. There is no escape from the craving. We’ve entered into a pact of never cooking and compulsively returning to that place with the awesome triple-decker club sandwich. Anything to avoid the melancholy of the desk salad or a blur of hours munching on chips, both of which leave you in digestive limbo, unsatisfied and mentally adrift.
Maybe you could just dip out alone and pick up a healthy veggie wrap and, like, eat it standing on the sidewalk? Jesus. Good thing we’re ordering pizzas for the team today.
Can we ever stop enticing each other to splurge on feasts we don’t need? Not as long as Chik-fil-A exists. Also, it’s hard to throw a sensible dinner party in the comfort of your apartment when you don’t have the kitchenware to pull off anything fancier than buttered noodles.
No, sheer stubbornness is the one defense you have against “It’s 11:45am and we’re all walking over to the strip-mall sushi place.” (Note: This is in no way an exaggeration of the lunch culture here at MEL, and the sushi at said place is excellent.) It’s too late to stay strong this week — I know you’ve been to that new hipster gastropub a lot since Monday — but practice a few excuses now and you’ll be prepared in the future. “I’m not super-hungry right now” gets the job done, as does “I found a hair in my food there last time,” or, “Actually, I’m banned from all Chipotle locations for life.”
Remember: “Just Say No” won’t help you stay off drugs, but it may well save you from the guilty aftermath of a meatball parm. Unless you’re already high, in which case you definitely need that meatball parm. And, what the hell — bring the whole gang along.