Nachos Ain’t Dinner

By Cyberquill 05/31/20134 Comments

People often distinguish between so-called “hot” (or “warm”) meals and “cold” meals, a distinction I’ve never fully understood.

For instance, someone will report they generally have their “hot” meal for lunch and something “cold” for dinner or vice versa, or they may evangelize with solicitous mien that everyone needs at least “one hot meal a day”—not one meal a day as opposed to nothing at all, but one hot meal as opposed to nothing but lowly cold fare—implying that hot meals supply us with something we require in a way that unhot meals do not, and that the former are of a somewhat more substantial meal-iness than their algid counterparts, as if only hot food were real food.

At least I don’t remember ever hearing anyone insist with parental inflection that in order to be properly nourished, one needed at least one cold meal a day.

I once overheard the following conversation on a train:

Person A: “Have you had dinner yet?”

Person B: “I had nachos.”

Person A: “Nachos ain’t dinner.”

Why not? Why are nachos not dinner?

Most likely, Person A would have regarded as “dinner” any type of grub, no matter how nutritionally inferior even to a plain serving of bagged corn chips, as long as it came heated on a dish and were meant to be eaten with a knife and a fork while seated at a dining table.

So I’ve always been a bit fuzzy as to the precise classification parameters employed to demarcate hot meals from cold meals. After all, if we chew our comestibles as thoroughly as we’re supposed to, by the time we swallow each bite, it has assumed body temperature anyway, so what difference does it make if our food started out hot or cold on the plate?

Beyond the initial mouthfeel—which, granted, may supply the eater with a measure of sensory gratification (or lack thereof) on grounds of food temperature—and excepting extremes that may induce internal scalding or frostbite, how is the body supposed to know, and why should it care, whether it’s being fed “hot” food or “cold” food?

And what’s meant by “cold” anyway? Does that mean room temperature? What if the room is nice and toasty?

One could say the distinction of hot vs. cold correlates with cooked vs. raw, i.e., with whether or not the food was exposed to sufficient heat during the preparation process that its molecular structure has been altered in a such a way as to have been rendered destitute of the scientific criteria for rawness, whatever those may be.

On this view, of course, a ham sandwich, served “cold,” would qualify as a hot meal, for at some point during preparation, each component was subjected to prodigious heat for the sake of conferring its familiar characteristics upon it. A mixture of flour and water becomes bread via undergoing a spell of prolonged torridity; and ham, I believe, is a kind of cooked meat.

On the other hand, what if I microwaved, say, some sliced zucchini just to a point where they had become as tepid as a lukewarm pizza—the latter, I suppose, would universally be regarded as a “warm” meal—but not enough to have wrought molecular changes so severe as to divest the veggies of their rawness?

So if both a raw meal and a cooked meal are served or eaten at the exact same temperature above room temperature, do both count as “warm” meals? And if not, why one and not the other? And what if the raw meal were served slightly warmer than the cooked one? Would the cooked one still be considered “warm” and the raw one “cold”?

Say I’m served a plate of steaming hot pasta, my phone rings, I take the call, and by the time I hang up, the spaghetti have cooled down to the temperature of the salad. Assuming I don’t arrange for re-heating and proceed with ingesting my pasta as is, am I now having a “warm” meal or a “cold” meal?

What if I’m a slow eater, and no matter how scorching my food when I take the first bite, by the time I’m halfway done, the speed of molecular movement in the remaining half has invariably slowed to that of the ambient air—then what kind of meals am I having? Half warm and half cold?

Could it be that the term “hot meal” (or “warm meal”) suggests that the food (1) has had its rawness cooked out of it and (2) is served above room temperature and (3) more than 50% of it is transferred from plate to mouth before its temperature has dropped to room temperature?

Must all three requirements apply in order for a meal to officially count as “hot” or “warm”? Or just two out of three?

Until clear and universal definitions are established, I’m afraid I shall continue to have to launch into a series of time-consuming counter-questions anytime someone asks me the seemingly straightforward yet devilishly complex question of whether I’ve already eaten something “warm” that day.

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  • Richard

    I am a full-potted spinning guttersnipe. I’ve never heard of or had nacho. So it ain’t dinner.

    I like hot food and sometimes eat it. The scars in my oesophagus prove it. So it is dinner.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      I half agree. And I’m sure you’ve had nachos, but given the Brits’ predilection for making up their own words, nachos are probably called something else over there. Maybe corn biscuits or something.

  • Shana

    That’s not how you spell esophagus. But anyway can you contact me cyberquill I need to ask you something personal please

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Oesophagus is the spelling listed as “chiefly Brit.” in the dictionary. And for personal questions, complaints, or suggestions, please use the “Contact” tab on top.

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