The Great American Picnic Has Gotten Awfully Complicated

Two picnics in one week have me wondering: What exactly do people eat anymore?

So between this weekend and last weekend, I had 50 people over for picnics in my backyard, gathered around the grill and waiting to be fed. It may seem like asking for it to throw cookouts for two straight weekends, but the way I saw it, if I was going to really clean the house, I might as well take advantage of it.

The first group was of co-workers, a bunch of bright and lovely young people. The operative word there is “young.” Since Bob Huber toddled off the masthead, I’ve become the eldest member of the editorial staff at the mag—and hell, I’m not even all that old. I figured it would be nice to have everyone over before I, say, drop dead.

The young people brought beer. They drank beer. They drank an unbelievable amount of beer. They also brought wine, and drank wine. My kids were home for the picnic, and since they’re roughly the same age—20-something—as most of my co-workers, they fit in very nicely. I had laid in a lot of what I hoped young people would eat, namely potato chips, hamburgers and hot dogs, along with some veggie burgers, because I was pretty sure several of the young people didn’t eat meat. I also made macaroni salad. Young people do not eat macaroni salad. I don’t know if this is because they only eat fancy pasta that’s shaped like little ears or radiators or bells, and not mundane pasta shaped like elbows (hey, parts is parts), or if they’re on the no-gluten bandwagon, or if they suffer from a mayonnaise aversion. But they do not eat macaroni salad. Did I mention that they drink beer? It’s possible they prefer to get their carbs from barley and hops.

Young people also do not much eat cookies. Luckily, cookies keep.

For my second cookout, I served the same range of proteins, with the addition of some chicken sausages and more of the veggie burgers, since I know for a fact that several of my relations are vegetarians. (You pick these things up in 57 years of family parties.) I did not make the mistake of making pasta salad again. I made potato salad instead. As it turns out, old people—okay, middle-aged people—do not eat potato salad. But I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have eaten macaroni salad, either. Also? Middle-aged people don’t drink nearly as much beer as young people do.

They do, however, eat dessert. Let me rephrase that. If there’s one thing they want to eat when they’re at a picnic where they’re eating what they don’t usually get to eat, it’s dessert. I intuited this from what the guests brought as offerings to our feast, which included a strawberry rhubarb pie, a caramel apple pie, brownies and two (two!) chocolate cakes. Added to the cookies I had left over from the weekend before AND the raspberry clafoutis I made on a whim (Martha Stewart’s recipe!) because I got nervous there wouldn’t be enough dessert (count me among those who don’t usually get to eat it), we had a lot of sweets. I made people promise to take their leftovers home. They didn’t. I now have a refrigerator full of cake and pie. And potato salad.

On the plus side, we think we actually came out about a case ahead in the beer count. If we were really efficient, we’d have one more picnic next weekend and just serve beer and dessert.

What will I do if we repeat this doubleheader next year? Well, no macaroni salad, that’s for damn sure, and no potato salad. God, no cookies! Fewer hot dogs (I even got the nitrite-free kind) and more chicken sausages. People do still eat hamburgers, though. Even if they’re accompanied by a long explanation by a cousin of why every single serving of red meat you consume takes 13 minutes off your lifespan. (Way to liven up the party, cuz!)

You can pick your friends. You can’t pick your relatives—or your co-workers. I’ve been pretty lucky with both, overall. The relatives are way bossier. They’re even bossier than my boss.

I just wish they all ate more macaroni salad and potato salad, and took their damn pies home.