Pizza with a fork not shameful, just age

I’m not a kid anymore.

I was reminded of this fact last week, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate, was loudly criticized in New York City for eating his pizza — with a fork! The topic came up with some friends, and I found myself defending him.

“Are you crazy?”

“He didn’t pick it up!”

“No real pizza person would do that!”

They sounded much like the New York Post, which wrote this headline:

“WTF is Wrong With John Kasich?”

Ah, journalism.

The fact is, years back, I might also have been critical. I was a proud pizza chomper — giant slices folded between my fingers, devoured quickly, another slice lifted.

But somewhere along the way, I started using utensils, knifing off the cheese and leaving behind the crust. I did this because the crust is really fattening (although the cheese isn’t much better) and I felt like I could still devour a whole pie this way, as I did many a night in college.

Only I’m not in college. People in college don’t scoop melted cheese from a comfortable bed of crust. People in college don’t open the sandwich, knife away the mayonnaise, lose the onions, and cut the contents into bite-sized portions. People in college don’t push the whipped cream off the sundae.

I must face the fact. Like my parents and grandparents before me, I have become …

A scraper.

Trimming the fat

Nobody intends to. It just happens. You begin life eating anything and everything. You use your hands, your feet, you’ll grab a bug and swallow it. As you age, it’s a challenge to see if that massive sub sandwich can fit in your mouth, or if you can lick off the sprinkles, fudge and nuts before the ice cream melts all over you. You’re like John Belushi in the “Animal House” cafeteria: lift plate, slide down throat.

And then, one day, someone says, “You know, the skin on the fried chicken is the fattening part.” And you try scraping it off.

So it begins.

Next thing you know, you are dissecting every dish like a high school biology experiment. You wipe away the rich sauce that is covering your piece of fish. You cut away the fat on your meats. You scoop off excess salad dressing, remove the croutons, and start asking for pretty much everything “on the side.”

You think you’re being healthy. That’s what you tell yourself. But I’ve now sunk to getting long spoons to submerge into parfaits, so as to pull up only the layer I really like — the salted caramel part, for example — leaving behind the ice cream, nuts and toppings like stranded passengers on the docks.

I’ll remove the chocolate chips from a cookie, convinced I’m “showing discipline.” I’ll cut into the middle icing, leaving behind the cake. I’ll pull out certain pieces of shish kebab, eat only the corners of hash browns, yank the crust off of dry toast. Honestly, when I’m finished, my plate looks like the tower of Babel — after it collapsed.

It can happen to you

And so, when I read that Kasich was getting clobbered for merely using a knife and fork, I felt sorry for him. He justified his actions, claiming the pizza was scalding hot. After a few bites, he even went for the hands. But it was too late. He’d been exposed.

And so, in his defense, and apparently my own, I need to say to young readers, don’t mock. Eating techniques change. It will happen to you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day. On doctor’s orders. After you read a magazine article. Or once you catch a glimpse of your protruding stomach in a mirror.

And all of a sudden, you’re taking the noodles out of your soup, patting French fries with napkins, opening the ravioli, pushing the chili from your coney dog, separating the “eggplant” from the “parmigiana,” cutting the cookie crust off of the mud pie, eating only the pecans from the torte, and giving the whipped cream and cherry from your ice cream sundae to your grandkids, who, of course, devour it with their fingers like it’s the last meal on Earth.

Live it up, kids. One day, you’ll pick up those strange-looking silver utensils, and the New York Post will write a headline as if you’ve just pulled off your clothes in the middle of Times Square.

We call that “adulthood.”

Don’t ask us why.

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