"I could smell it on her breath right away," Peter says, still injured by the memory.
Amanda, his wife, had grabbed an after-work drink with a friend. But cocktails stirred other hungers, as they often do. She'd stumbled back to their Brooklyn home late and leaned on the buzzer to be let in. And there she stood in the doorway—smelling of tequila and nixtamalized-corn tortillas, of carnitas and Oaxacan cheese and only God and Danny Bowein knew what else.
She said it was no big deal, says Peter, a travel writer who's not given to bouts of childish jealousy. "But I knew. I knew she'd gone to Bowein's new Mission Cantina without me."
They asked that I not include their last names, because they are rightfully embarrassed for themselves. But they are by no means alone. Peter's tale of culinary cuckolding is the story of unforeseen consequences, the spoiled fruit of our brilliantly blossoming cultural infatuation with what we eat. Lay citizens know terms like spatchcock and sous-vide. Food nerdism used to be a niche affliction, like being into jazz guitar. But the creeping influence of cooking shows and celebrity-chef culture and show-off-your-lunch social media has engendered a national epidemic of obsessive, compulsive eaters and oversharers.
• • •
Four other conditions you might be suffering from.
Confused state brought on by scrolling through righteous farm-to-table Twitter feeds while guiltily inhaling Little Debbie snack treats or reading Michael Pollan at the McDonald's drive-thru.
Ristretto Compulsive Disorder
Extreme specificity in coffee ordering and tendency to lecture others about sourcing of beans and quality of microfoam.
Affliction in which the sufferer makes sudden uncontrollable outbursts and exclamations—"Bottarga!"—while dining on successive courses.
Painful erection caused by excessive excitement about a new restaurant opening. If this state lasts more than four hours, please consult a doctor.
• • •
And like most addicts, we don't know when to stop and we hurt the ones we love. The partners we make promises to. Promises like: I will never set foot inside the new, feverishly anticipated Bistro Hâute Shit. Never! Without! You!
But then a work friend rings up, offering to treat you to lunch. Somewhere new and nice. On an expense account. And hey, it can't hurt to just stop by Bistro Hâute Shit for a little taste, right? Cut to: A couple of small plates shared, a gateway to an entrée, and the next thing you know you've taken a little two-top stray-cation.
Welcome to the cultural phenomenon known as infoodelity (n., the act of betrayal by eating somewhere you said you wouldn't without your significant other). Being monogamous is rough enough—now you're expected to be monogourmet (adj., committed to exploring culinary pleasures exclusively in the company of your partner). Our truest intentions are tested by the never-ending need to taste all things new, rarefied, and hard-to-reserve.
So where on the spectrum of a dereliction of devotion does infoodelity fall? My friend Peter's wife works in food publishing. They eat enviably well, usually in each other's company. But there are times when one will step out on the other and hit a spot they were saving for a date night.
"You know that thing when your insomniac spouse stays up till 4 A.M. burning through all those episodes of House of Cards you were both saving, and when you ask, 'Why the fuck did you do that?' they flip it around with a passive-aggressive remark about your snoring?" Peter asks. "It's like that but slightly more maddening and a lot more fattening."
Some see it as more fraught. James Nicholas and Anna Weinberg own The Cavalier, Park Tavern, and Marlowe, always-packed eateries in San Francisco. They're in business with each other. They have a young son. In other words: They spend a lot of time together.
"Every once in a while, I'll treat myself to a meal with a friend at Ame in the St. Regis," James says. "For Anna, it really is the equivalent of breaking our vows."
Says Anna: "There's a lot of romance and intimate pleasure in a great meal. So every time you go without your partner, you're squandering that romance and intimacy on someone else."
It's a telling sign of the central emotional importance we give to everything we ingest these days that the act of sitting at different tables is seen as a harbinger of damning emotional distance. Conjugal consumption is sacrosanct. Share a transcendent dining experience outside the relationship and you've revealed to another your omakase face. And what happens to the couple with incompatible appetites? When your partner's a celiac vegan, every new meat-centric pasta joint is an invitation to chase some nose-to-tail.
In the end, foodie infractions against lovers are no worse than they are between friends and strangers. Having a great dinner without the other isn't a crime. Flaunting the experience on Instagram is. So stop hoarding bucket-list meals and treating them like notches on the bedpost. Try to recall that no one really cares what you put in your mouth. Unless you make them feel bad about it. In which case you'll probably wind up eating at all those fancy restaurants alone.