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OPINION: Hungry men make it hard to feed them

Anytime we need extra people to get our cows moved, worked or calves branded, I put on a meal to feed everyone afterwards, or at least I try to. The men who help us, earn their appetite and are ready to eat by noon, but they are difficult to feed. It takes effort and another twenty minutes or so to get them coaxed into the house to dish their plates up.

These men downplay that they're ready to eat. They may be hungry, but they will deliberately delay the process just to make sure they're not the first to go through the line. Announcing that the food is ready are the labor pains of feeding a crew. Everybody wants to eat, but nobody is brave enough to volunteer going first. They all wait for someone else to step up to the stack of plates or hope some poor sap will get arm-handled by the cook towards the kitchen. Calling everybody in to come and eat is a three part proclamation.

The first announcement is going out to the yard and hollering at everyone to come and eat, that the food is ready. This does nothing more than verify that everything is up to temperature, deemed safe to eat and has been pulled out of the oven. No lids or foil come off the hot dishes until the first person comes through. On average it's another fifteen minutes before that happens. This first announcement is the crew's hopeful attempt to eliminate who will be the first to go through the line. My announcement may appear to have fallen on deaf ears but I have a big loud mouth. They all hear me, but they continue visiting. Nobody makes eye contact with me. They avert their eyes to avoid looking in my direction for fear I'll call on them to start the line. Men standing in a group talking do not break their huddle on the first call. They don't want their eagerness to eat to be too obvious.

The second announcement I come out and say the same thing, maybe add a few more comments to guilt them into coming to eat. There may be some shuffles in the direction of my voice but it's very slow and comes to a stop after a couple steps. The men farthest away are hoping the guy(s) closest to the door will feel pressured and head into the kitchen. Progress is halted to see if anyone volunteers to go first. Otherwise, they wait until I come back out.

By the third announcement I'm recruiting other women from the kitchen to get men moving. I can announce it as loud as my big mouth will carry, but they all pretend they didn't hear me and are in an engrossing conversation. I might call on the person standing closest to me to come in, but resistance to move swiftly continues. The crew waits to see if the called on person will actually do it.

Moving in the direction of the kitchen is an unspoken movement made by all. No one actually goes in unless someone has gone first, then they all go in as a team.

There's an awkwardness in the air of waiting to find out who's going to be the first in line. Everybody's concerned about it. Who's it going to be? Will it come down to somebody getting hand-picked and dragged in by the cook if no one volunteers to be first? They're all there to eat, but the pressure of being the first in line is real, and no man wants that pressure — to be the first in the kitchen faced with all the women standing around what feels like vultures waiting and watching. Who is going to the brave soul to take the first divot out of every neatly made salad, cooking magazine-worthy hot dish, and manicured pan of mashed potatoes they all worked hard to look perfect. The older guys are hoping any young teenagers or single guys present will jump in first, taking the pressure off everybody else. Sometimes that works.

This is why it's handy to have a new guy tagging along. Everybody's okay encouraging the novice to go first.