There has been a change in culinary style at our house.

Instead of drenching his French toast in oceans of syrup, the 6-year-old has abandoned the brown stuff. Now he merely coats the toast with butter.

I discovered this the other morning when, conditioned by years of serving syrup, I presented the syrup bottle to the French toast eater. I was severely criticized.

The kid informed me that he had changed his French toast tastes several days ago. I should have noticed.

I had failed as a father. I still had him classified as a syrup-swiller and he was clearly now a butter-baster. I apologized to my son, trying to suppress a smile. He didn't think it was funny; he regarded this change of eating habits as a big deal.

And on reflection, he had something.

Our food habits matter to us. Getting lettuce on our roast beef sandwich, cream in our coffee, butter on our toast are parts of our daily routine. They are details that we expect folks close to us to notice.

I, for instance, believe I am entitled to a knife, a fork and a spoon at the evening meal.

Whenever I sit down to dinner at home and see that the tablesetter has shorted me on some silverware, I am livid.

Before I put a morsel in my mouth, I storm over to the silverware drawer and arm myself with the missing utensil. I may not use every piece of silverware during the meal, but I want them with me, nonetheless.

On occasion, I have even taken the drastic step of plucking the needed pieces of silverware from a pile of dirty dishes and washing them.

In addition, I believe in the inalienable right to determine your portion size. This means that at family meals I want to fill my plate myself from food in serving bowls. I don't want to be presented with a plate that some authority figure, like the cook, has loaded with the "correct" amount of food.

I believe how hungry I am is an intimate matter. It is a privileged communication between me and my stomach that no outside authority, no matter how well-intentioned, should interfere with.

And so I say that if you can cut your own meat, you can serve yourself.

Moreover, I support serving bowls. They allow easy access to second helpings. Removing obstacles to second helpings has been a lifelong crusade of mine.

With serving bowls, after you have polished off the first helping, all you have to do to reload is track down the dish on the dinner table and spoon out some more food.

By contrast, in the predetermined-portion style of eating, getting more food is more difficult. You have to get up from the table, carry your plate to the stove and hope there is still some spaghetti left in the pan. And as veteran travelers know, the path to the stove can be treacherous, clogged with chairs, toys and spillage.

I know that another person's food habits can be unappetizing. A frequent visitor to our house, for instance, likes his breakfast cereal served in layers. The bottom of the bowl is covered with raisin bran, then a layer of Cheerios, topped off with a layer of Kix. When I recently made a bowl of this "three-way" cereal, it reminded me of the "three-way" chili they serve in Cincinnati.

I don't always agree with the serving style that other family members insist on. The other day, for instance, I fouled up making a school lunch for the 6-year-old. Instead of putting strawberry jelly "without any seeds" on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I had used some seedy raspberry jam.

I happen to think that seeds make a better sandwich. But even though I disagree with the 6-year-old's quirky food habit, I defend his right to practice it. As long, that is, as he continues to believe in slicing the sandwich on the diagonal.

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