When what you are eating is sight unseen to you
There is one thing I am really uncomfortable with and that is eating in public and when I do I prefer to eat with close family and friends as they realise the difficulties in eating when you cannot see the food or the plate in front of you. Even my granddaughter at four years old understood the problems and would try to explain to me what was on the plate and whereabouts it was positioned.
Unfortunately there can be problems even then when you are eating in public as you can make mistakes by not cutting the food perfectly so some is hanging out of your mouth even when you thought you got the correct amount on your fork and also when you put a fork to your mouth and there is nothing there at all, and this can get extremely frustrating, or even embarrassing if you have a sense that someone is watching you.
A basic strategy
The first strategy I adopted was similar to the one I used in a previous life when I was working in IT. Whenever I went to a business meeting that involved a meal I would not choose a main course that involved food that was on the bone, included spaghetti or noodles or suchlike, or spicy food. This would mean I could generally keep my concentration on the business in hand. This also works when eating blind because taking food off the bone is very awkward as is eating spaghetti or noodle style meals. The reason I include spicy meals in this list is that you might need to quickly reach for a tissue or a drink and if you cannot see where they are there is a risk that you can knock items over or misplace things and still not have reached your objective.
Empathy, not a hope
When I first went out for a meal organised by my local blind Association I felt quite confident because if I made any mistakes they would not be picked up upon or I would be given advice on how to cope better but that was not the case. Within this group of about a dozen people there was a certain clique who all they could do was mock, but all the rude comments were not aimed just at me but at another person who was also making their debut at one of these lunch club meetings. I only went to 2 more of these lunch club meetings with the hope that they might get better but they didn’t and on the last meeting when nobody would tell me what was on the menu but just kept thrusting this menu in front of me I gave up and walked to the bar and asked the girl behind the bar what was on the menu she told me then she asked me if I would like it laid out on the plate in any special way which she did and then bought it to me first out of all the other people waiting for their food, I think she overheard or knew what was happening.
Room layout can help make dining less traumatic
Because of the commercial nature of most restaurants I can understand that tables have to be closely packed together and I have no problem with that and knowing that I will be unable to navigate with my white cane I am guided by using the elbow of the person who is accompanying me and they can then guide me to my chair. However there is one dining hall in a rehabilitation centre that I often visit that uses round tables that are scattered around the room and these are impossible to navigate because if you are totally blind life is a lot easier if you only have to move in straight lines most of the time and if the tables are straight it will only take two visits to be able to get directly to your chair because you can measure the distance but with round tables navigation is extremely difficult and you tend to go off at tangents and then you also have the problem of chairs being pulled out at different angles rather than at 90° to the table, this can cause accidents of all kinds. I have noted this in feedback forms and questions on many occasions but nobody has ever had the good manners to explain why it is done that way.
Some people are just like to prove they are ignorant
I have also been what you could regard as being insulted whilst having a meal in the company of other allegedly blind diners. I did not realise there was a name plate in front of my eating space and this person kept asking me to turn this thing around and I had no idea what he was talking about, then he just reached over in front of me and obviously turned it round and sat down and said now everybody can see what your name is to which I quipped while they can’t if they are blind can they, a retort that he did not appreciate though the lady sitting next to me did. A bit later the same gentleman, no idea why I use that term, asked me to pass him some water and I said I couldn’t because I couldn’t see it and then he screamed at me that it was straight in front of me so I just gave up, put my cutlery down and walked out having had enough of this guy. Another incident was when the waitress was kindly explaining to me what was on my plate and at what position according to the clock face but during this time I could make out the couple opposite sniggering and talking about it and then making rude comments to somebody on the phone about me I ignored them, silently got on with my meal because I had to concentrate and then left. I was later told by the person who had been sitting next to me at the table that the waitress came back and gave these two people harsh words and they never appeared at the dining table at the same time as me for a few days.
Locating tables and your seat specifically is extremely difficult when you’re totally blind and then having to put up with jibes and insults afterwards can make you not want to visit that situation again as it makes eating a totally unpleasant experience.
And the good bits
On a lighter note 1 of the ladies who used to serve me at this rehabilitation centre came to me and said that she had been to a restaurant where everybody ate in the dark and she was saying how difficult it was to eat and cut up your food in this situation and she frequently found out that she had nothing on her fork or her spoon by the time it reached her mouth to which I said join the club I have the same problem, I went on to tell her that I thought she was very brave trying it and thanked her four doing it on behalf of all totally blind people but I did add the caveat that she did have an advantage that nobody could see her mistakes whilst most blind people are sitting in company where everybody can see and criticise, she caught up with me later and said she had the conversation with me on purpose as she knew the kind of people I was sitting with.
One thing I have taken from eating experiences with other people within the blind community is that most people are very kind and helpful but it only takes one or 2 to be totally rude and make you very self-conscious of what you are doing when you’re trying to enjoy your meal and this should be pointed out to them as they are very lucky to have some sight where some people have no sight at all.