If I had to name the greatest invention and achievement in the history of mankind, it would probably be meals.
I know, I know, there are many deserving candidates, like the aqueduct, the automobile, and those little glow-in-the-dark stars that you stick on your ceiling so you see tiny glowing dots when you turn out the lights. But I’ve given the issue some thought, and while I was thinking I got hungry, and so I came to the conclusion that meals are, in fact, our greatest invention.
Note that I did not say food was our greatest invention. We didn’t invent food; obviously it’s not as if primitive man would have survived for very long without food. But primitive man wasn’t capable of civilized meals like most of us are today. Primitive man could only make a series of unintelligible grunts, grab whatever vaguely food-like substance was nearby, and start chewing on it.
I should probably mention that "primitive man" basically describes me in the morning.
Still, the point is that food has been around since the dawn of man. It doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg, because primitive man ate both of them in order to survive. (Well, technically primitive man ate mostly nuts and berries until someone invented fire. And even then, I still think the egg is a bit of a stretch. If I see something coming out of an animal’s butt, and on investigation that something is hard on the outside, spiky if I break it open, and filled with goop that makes me sick when I eat it, I do not immediately think "Food!" I think "Prank!" But I’m still glad someone decided we should try eating eggs.)
Regardless, the eating of food was not an invention. But meals are a glorious invention. Think about it: Our bodies require three things in order to function: input, output, and recharge. Recharge for the human body should take the form of sleep -- a lesson quickly learned by anyone who has tried to recharge by sticking a finger into an electrical socket. This recharge is inherently uninteresting and unsocial, because you are not awake. Output is a process where we excuse ourselves to go to a solitary room where we hide and unhappily do our duty.
Both are inconvenient interruptions of the day to deal with necessary human body maintenance. And one could easily imagine that we might treat input the same way -- hiding in a solitary room, unhappily ingesting the required nutrients to maintain our functioning bodies.
But we invented something better. We invented meals. This arduous task of nutrient input has somehow become the most celebrated part of our day. Many of us look forward to meals with great anticipation all day. Lunch is the oasis in the desert of the workday, especially if it has dessert in the workday. And dinner is the main evening event that people plan around, so celebrated that even while we are eating a meal, we will talk about other dinners we have had in the past, and dinners we plan to have in the future.
Granted, half of the allure of meals is the socializing. So one can imagine a world where our shared social time was focused on output rather than input.
That’s why I’m glad we invented meals.
Seth Brown is a humor writer, the author of "It Happened In Rhode Island," and can’t wait for dinner. His work appears weekly in the Transcript, and weakly on RisingPun.com.