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Gender and Food

Hi everyone,

I have been asked to give a quick 5-minute speech regarding food and masculinity for a conference on "What makes a man..."

Can anyone share any personal stories, thoughts, resources you have regarding why men eat the way they do, or whether or not you think social expectation and upbringing shapes the foods that men associate with being masculine and those they avoid because they don't want to seem feminine. Or anything you think might relate and might inspire me.

Thank you so much!

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  1. They don't eat quiche? Or so I have heard. I am a lady and I don't care for it, either.

    4 Replies
    1. re: soonerhound

      "Real men don't eat quiche" is very strange, seeing that quiche was a starter from the Lorraine region in Eastern France, near the German border, peopled with miners and metalworkers, and a lot of military due to the hostile border. Stereotypical "real men". Quiche was a starter before a very hearty main dish.

      1. re: lagatta

        I'm pretty sure that quote is in an Ernest movie.

        1. re: lagatta

          men will eat quiche if you dont tell them its quiche lol men seem to ne into meat and potatoes.. and they seem to like home cooked and simple. and once they like something they stick with it

          1. re: layla13

            This is a funny observation, because my last relationship was the exact opposite of some of the things you mention. One, I love quiche. I love meat and potatoes, but I think most hounds enjoy a great steak...I for one do not like stews, so if the meat and potatoes are mixed, I'm not having it. My ex, had no problem. I think everyone prefers home cooked, but I like to be wined and dined just as much as a lady would. as for finding something I like and sticking with it....I find that to be 100% a female attribute.

      2. I went out with my husband and I ordered pork chops, he ordered a caesar salad. The waiter automatically put the pork chops in front of my husband and the salad in front of me. My husband clearly orders what he wants to eat and doesn't care about "seeming feminine." So, stereotyping with examples might be humorous but doesn't conclude anything. A man secure in his masculinity doesn't order by stereotype. A man not, might.

        5 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          Similar happens with us all the time. She'll order the pate and a big rare steak and I'll have a salad followed by fish. Servers will often try to put down the lighter option in front of her.

          It also happens with drinks - I don't drink alcohol and she does. Server always puts the beer down next to me.

          We always think it's quite humourous the way servers treat us so stereotypically.

          1. re: Harters

            This is great! Actually your story made me realize that the same thing happens to my bf and I. I actually can eat much more than him, even though I weight half of what he does, so he often will beg me to finish his plate too so he doesn't look so... well, wimpy?

            1. re: hungryabbey

              My bf and I have had the same thing happen, particularly in a busy diner at breakfast or when a runner is bringing out our meal instead of the original waitstaff. I'm on a low carb diet, so I'll be getting a big steak while he orders a light seafood pasta. If it is weekend breakfast out I'm the one getting a selection of meat and eggs while he gets a light crepe or spinach omelet. We ate at a Village Inn that has a pick 4 menu option, and everything I picked was egg, then meat, meat, and another kind of meat. The server (a guy) stopped and asked if we were married, and if not, would I marry him. He liked a girl who didn't give a damn and went right for the meat. I don't usually like it when staff comments on my menu pick, but it was pretty funny and he was charming about it.

              1. re: hungryabbey

                Yep, this happens to me and my DH all the time. We go out for breakfast regularly, and when the server comes with the yogurt and mueslix and the "trucker's breakfast" with bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes and hashbrowns, inevitably, the yogurt gets set down in front of me. DH is the first to jump in with, "um yeah, that's mine..."

                On our first date, we went to an Italian restaurant and he was so thrilled that I ordered an appetizer, a big plate of pasta AND dessert. He told me afterwards that he was tired of going out for a nice dinner and having the woman only order a salad.

                :)

          2. Speaking for myself I guess the differences are that I don't care if the things I eat are organic or not, free-range or not, grass-fed or not, and most of the time I eat fruit and produce without washing them first. I do rinse potatoes but that's about as far as I go.

            There are no foods that I avoid because I don't want to seem feminine ... I love quiche.

            The difference it seems to me is that like a dog, I will eat absolutely anything, and women seem to be more picky about what they eat. As a man I have been conditioned to be willing to take risks ... if you are a guy you are rewarded in your youth if you are a risk-taker ... so I will do things like buying food from street vendors in Mexico without giving it a second thought ... while women are not raised to be risk-takers, and say "I don't know if eating tamales you bought from a street vendor is such a good idea."

            A lot of it is probably social expectations. If as a guy and you are having dinner at a steak house there is no way you are going to order an 8 ounce steak and a salad, you are going to order the 14 ounce steak ... whether that is the healthiest thing to do doesn't really enter into the decision-making process because, once again, you are conditioned to take risks. If you are at a table with three other guys you aren't going to order the big salad.

            In the third "Bourne" movie starring Matt Damon there is a scene where the bad CIA guy and the good CIA woman meet in a restaurant and the guy orders an egg white omelet without the cheese or the peppers ... as she leaves the table the good CIA woman says to the bad CIA guy "Enjoy your egg white omelet" ... the message is that because he is scared to eat whole eggs, he is too prissy, thus establishing him as the "bad guy."

            Fussiness over what you eat is generally seen by society as a feminine characteristic, while the willingness to eat absolutely anything is seen as a masculine characteristic.

            42 Replies
            1. re: redfish62

              See and this is where I have problems with stereotypes. As a woman, I'm not picky about the food I eat, have eaten from vendors in third world countries without batting an eye. In the Fijis, we passed fish vendors w/ fish lying out and I bought the food they were eating, and ate it all with my dirty fingers. And, as I said above, my husband and I ate at a restaurant, he had a big salad, I had the pork chops. Sometimes I have the salad and he has the steak. No role playing.

              As the organic, free range, grass fed stuff goes, there's Michael Pollan--he has more opinions about it than most women I know.

              1. re: chowser

                Me, too. I am up to try anything once excepting species on the endangered list and things that would just plain go against my morals and ethics (i.e. dog). I have an adventurous spirit and an adventurous palate. Not at all squeamish. Admittedly my appetite is rather hardy! No role playing with my husband at restaurants, either. Just last week I had the bison tenderloin and he had the sole. He had the lemon souffle and sorbet; I had the bread pudding. Whatever our appetites dictate we eat.

                Having grown up on a farm all our livestock and poultry were free range so that is what I grew up with and I appreciate that very much. It is still very important to me AND my husband!

                1. re: chowser

                  it's my understanding that anything gender-typed would technically have to be true be cross-cultural as well; which wouldn't seem to be the case with many of our "Americanized" sterotypes. If i were you i would do some research around women being the original food and the "hunter-gatherer distinctions of our ancient ancestors.

                  1. re: betsydiver

                    That's one of the main ways they try to get to the bottom of socialization vs. nature - they go to the most remote place they can, try to find a tribe of people that have had as little contact w/ the outside world as possible, and observe from there.

                2. re: redfish62

                  Redfish-your third paragraph cracked me up. So true about risk taking. I was in Tijuana many years ago with friends and all the males got hot dogs from a vendor on the street. And I'm the one who said "not sure if that's such a great idea" Guess who was sick all the way back to LA?

                  1. re: redfish62

                    A counterpoint to the stereotype redfish62 is describing is the opposite, but equally (or even more) prevalent stereotype of the "meat and potatoes" man. That type of man will not eat everything - he wants a standard meal of meat, starch and vegetable (although quite possibly willing to skip the vegetable), simply prepared. He doesn't like unusual seasonings, and doesn't want to eat anything strange, especially foreign food. The "meat and potatoes man" would prefer to have a tooth pulled than go into a Thai restaurant. He doesn't like his food to be fussy, doesn't want sauces, and disdains creative "presentation". Needless to say, he has no use for most high-end restaurants, the exception being a steakhouse.

                    I've known guys like that, but of course it is a stereotype, and as with any stereotype it would be offensive to imply that it holds any particular truth with respect to the male palate. Men on Chowhound wouldn't see themselves in that stereotype, just the women on Chowhound don't see themselves in the stereotypes about how women eat.

                    1. re: MelMM

                      That's not necessarily true. I consider myself an M&P man yet I love ethnic foods; Thai, Mexican, etc.. I also disdain the presentation silliness, fusions, nouvelle/nouveau cuisines. I'm not into salads or desserts, just hearty main dishes.

                      1. re: mucho gordo

                        Of course it isn't necessarily true... it's a stereotype. I'm describing a stereotypical M&P man, which you obviously are not. Individuals never (or at least rarely) fit a stereotype exactly, which is why people who rely on them get into so much trouble. I do have some in-laws who fit that one pretty closely though. They are not the kind of folks who would be on this board. Nor are the women who subsist on salads.

                        1. re: MelMM

                          I'm not sure I understand why you say I'm 'obviously' not an M&P man; because I like ethnic foods?

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            I'm not saying you aren't an M&P man, I'm saying you are not a stereotypical one.

                      2. re: MelMM

                        I see this in some older men but not younger ones. I like to think it's changing.

                        1. re: MelMM

                          One good example of the portrayal of the M&P man is in Breakfast at Tiffany's -- Holly Golightly is engaged to a Brazilian and learning to cook. She invites her American ... man friend over for "chicken and saffron rice" which of course blows up in the kitchen. At which point he says "I'm not much for chicken with sauce" showing that he's (1) a real man, and (2) a real *American* man (as opposed to the Brazilian fiance). Of course it's ironic this Brazilians are now associated with all-you-can-eat grilled meat!

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            The thing is, if you go by stereotypes from Breakfast at Tiffany's, you'd think asian men have big buck teeth and glasses and are fairly unintelligible.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Tonight, TCM, 8:00 eastern time

                              1. re: chowser

                                The point being that stereotypes are about *perception* and may or (usually) may not have anything to do with reality, but that people from that culture will recognize the symbolism -- consciously or unconsciously -- and that's how they're used by advertisers, movie makers, etc. In this case, Blake Edwards used the character's expressed attitude toward food to make a very clear distinction between the down to earth American man and the rich, foreign man.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Stereotypes ARE perceptions. I guess I bristle against them because people see others, not as they are, but as they have pigeon-holed them. And, when someone does fit a stereotype, the perceiver can then say, "See, that's an example of someone who is...." That's the way the OP came off in the first post--give me examples of men and women fitting into stereotypes, and explain why you think they do.

                                  Of course, stereotypes exist in movies, they don't only exist in them, they're perpetuated by them and that is a big problem, imo.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Not all stereotypes are harmful. In fact, I think most of them are silly but relatively harmless. For example, does the "meat and potatoes" stereotype hurt anyone? Stereotypes exist, and I think the issue of why any particular stereotype exists, the extent to which it is based in reality and the effect that stereotype has on our perceptions and our culture -- which is what I thought the original poster was asking about -- is interesting.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      I think stereotypes say more about the person holding the stereotype than the people being stereotyped. As I said before, I think preconceived notions, whether harmful or not, can prevent someone from seeing a person as he/she is vs what she wants to see. Does Asians being good at math, or African Americans being great athletes hurt? It depends on who you ask. Who wants to be pigeonholed, whether it's good or not, based on race or sex or something they have no control over? That, to me, is the effect of a stereotype on our culture.

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        Hi... This is interesting to me. Being half-asian, when I observe certain behaviors such as other asians driving poorly, I am more prone to think "dude, you're making us look bad" as regards the individual(s) whose behavior reinforces the stereotype, rather than thinking "I wish non-asians didn't view 'us' as poor drivers". I tend to then over-compensate and make sure that my own driving is as exemplary as possible. Much in the same way that, due to having long hair, I tend to over-dress and wear blazers and ties, so as to not reinforce the "hippes-don't own-a comb" steretype. These are somewhat benign examples, but my point is, that for me, I don't generally look to society and bemoan 'their' impression of me as a vehicularly inept flower-child. I take note of the stereotype(s) to which I may be suseptible, and then choose to let my own example break those preconceptions in wont of breaking, when I can...

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          But we're not talking about applying stereotypes to individuals here -- we're talking about how the *phenomenon* of stereotypes influences our culture and becomes the basis for shared cultural references that exist independently of how the stereotype is applied to individuals, as in the example I noted above.

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Whether we're talking about applying it to individuals or not, people do and that's the harmful part of stereotypes. Look at silence9 who has said he(she?) allows stereotypes to change personal behavior--I think it's fairly common. Annoying or harmful or not, I'd say stereotypes aren't helpful. I think we've moved on from that stereotype of Asians as buck toothed, heavily accented ignoramuses of Breakfast at Tiffany's and American men as only plain meat heavy guys and I think it's a good thing.

                                          2. re: chowser

                                            If a stereotype is true (that is to say, there is a correlation between group X and effect Y that is greater than the rest of the population ... as opposed to saying "all X are Y"), and one realizes that it doesn't mean "all X are Y", is it still wrong for a person to hold said stereotype?

                                            If you say that one shouldn't even go this far, you're claiming that you treat every person as a fully blank slate, and that's just ridiculous. I've met people who say that's what they do, but it's an absurd statement. Like it or not, we're constantly binning everyone that we encounter. The difference is in how easily/quickly those people can move to other bins from their actions as opposed to staying firmly put due to preconceived notions based on stereotypes & the like.

                                            1. re: jgg13

                                              I'd try to keep an open mind but that doesn't mean it's always the case. But, I try. If I'm invited to dinner to someone who's Asian, I don't assume I'll be served rice and I rarely serve rice. I'm never surprised to see a woman heat up a grill nor a man order a salad. If you think that's being ridiculous, then many people are ridiculous.

                                              1. re: chowser

                                                None of those were really what I had in mind (and I want to be mindful of the mod's push back towards food topics so I won't get into it beyond that), but my main point was that (assuming these sorts of minor issues were what I was talking about) it isn't necessarily a bad thing if you did make those assumptions as long as you were perfectly willing to accept that you were wrong and not view it as a big deal once shown wrong.

                                                1. re: jgg13

                                                  As examples of stereotypes gone wrong in restaurants, there have been examples here where the server assumes guy is the one ordering meat or paying, the woman the one getting the dainty salad and that's where I started it off at the top. Make an assumption on your head if you must but don't play it out. In a business meal, especially, it can be offensive to assume the boss, or one in charge, is the white male, even if the person accepts he/she was wrong.

                                          3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            to relate this to another ongoing thread - yes that stereotype does hurt - it's the very stereotype that keeps non-chinese from seeing everything in a chinatown restaurant.

                                            1. re: thew

                                              Still, in the greater scheme of things, more annoying than harmful.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                stereotyping is what brains do. we create generalities from specific instances. the problem is when the stereotype overshadows the reality.

                                                1. re: thew

                                                  Hey folks, just leaving a reminder that replies need to remain food focused - Thanks!

                                2. re: redfish62

                                  Okay responding to my own post here. I knew there would be negative reactions to my post but I was just being honest ... nobody knows who anybody is here so why not be honest?

                                  I want to respond to the "stereotype" thing. Yes, stereotypes can be terrible, for example Amos and Andy. That is a vapid, baseless, hurtful stereotype.

                                  But stereotypes can also be very accurate in a "more likely than not" sense. I'm not saying that every man in the world will choose the 14 ounce steak over the 8 ounce steak if dining with other people, I'm saying that more often than not the man will go for the bigger steak ... that is why steak houses even offer such big steaks ... it appeals to male vanity. They sure as hell aren't appealing to the women with the 48 ounce steak.

                                  Also not every guy will eat ridiculous crap that they should know better than to eat ... I sure as hell don't ... but when I was 25, I did. And I still eat fruits and vegetables without washing them, how stupid is that? But I do it anyway.

                                  Given the original question, I thought I would respond in a manner that is helpful towards answering the question ... of course not every male is going to respond in stereotypical male fashion with respect to food choices/practices, nor will every woman, but enough of us do that it is relevant to the question.

                                  1. re: redfish62

                                    Well, if it's a light-hearted speech your giving, then anecdotal 'evidence' should suffice, no?

                                    Female here, loves steak, thinks anything beyond 10 oz. is unnecessary, anything beyond 16 oz. ridiculous.

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      When having steak, knowing I have left-overs is key to my dining experience. I want the appetizer, I want the bread, salad and sides. I want to take at least half of that steak home (you can keep dessert).
                                      You can't do that with assembled dishes that are best eaten freshly prepared, but as far as good meat goes, I will drag that experience out as long as possible.

                                      I have found it amusing that so many people on this thread are denying their belonging to the dining stereotype associated with their gender. One would scarcely think there was any basis for those stereotypes at all. I'm another woman who can out-eat most people and is not ashamed to do so and eats street food in 3rd world countries. I am beginning to wonder if these stereotypes have their roots in date behavior??

                                      1. re: weewah

                                        When I was single, though I mightily enjoyed a nice spinach salad and warm bacon dressing, I'd too often found that wilted spinach would adhere to my front teeth and my female dining companion usually said nothing, leaving me to discover my green grin belatedly at home. Same with creamed spinach... Being married means having someone to unabashedly tell you your teeth are green, and someone to mercifully scratch that itchy siberia between the shoulder blades just beyond reach :-)

                                        1. re: weewah

                                          I obviously can't speak for others here, but I'm not particularly fond of leftovers; particularly reheating a previously perfectly cooked steak.

                                          So I'd rather just have a "normal" size rib-eye and eat it in one sitting at the restaurant without feeling like crap afterwards (which anything beyond 10, ok, perhaps 12 oz. inevitably would do).

                                          As for date behavior, all I can say is that when my man, who I had been dating for a little over a month, cooked for me for the first time (spaghetti with meat sauce, excellent, btw), I went for seconds, and a smaller third helping.

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            I'm trying to think of any meats/proteins that taste good on reheating. Possibly meatloaf at best. I don't care for room temperature meats like fried chicken, normally.

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              Chowser: so many Indian dishes taste better the next day, after the flavours have had a chance to blend better, especially the "wet" or gravied/saucy dishes.
                                              Protein dishes included - daals, meats, etc.
                                              So, these dishes stand up to reheating extremely well.

                                              1. re: chowser

                                                Almost all stews or simmered soups taste better the next day.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  True Rasam and huiray. I should have been more clear and said one that stands alone like a steak or piece of fish.

                                        2. re: redfish62

                                          Maybe 'fussiness" is why a woman's life expectancy is longer than a man's.

                                          1. re: redfish62

                                            I thought that egg white omelet bit in the Bourne movie was irony.

                                          2. It might help if you mention if this speech is meant in jest or actually a serious topic of discussion?

                                            18 Replies
                                            1. re: yfunk3

                                              I wondered the same thing. Frankly, I can't imagine any serious, scholarly presentation could be so fundamentally grounded upon stereotypes and generalizations. The notion that there is a "male" way to eat and a "female" way to eat certainly seems to belong to a distant time. Maybe you should turn the topic on its head??

                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                Not to mention what culture is the OP talking about? If it's serious, OP might want to start with a search on JSTOR or WorldCat to try to locate some serious scholarly articles or books about this topic.

                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                  You really think that stereotypes dictating how men and women should eat are a thing of the past?

                                                  I don't. They seem alive and well. Maybe as much so now as ever. And many people feel compelled to live up to those stereotypes. Some seem to be posting in this thread.

                                                  As to whether men and women actually have any innate differences to their preference of foods - I have no idea. I suspect that most of the stereotypical differences between men and women with respect to food are just that - people living up to what they think is expected of them, attractive in them. But that doesn't mean there's no innate trends or difference at all.

                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    I don't deny that cliches happen - I mean, you still occasionally see the really fat guy getting a double desert after dinner. Nevertheless, I cannot remember, in my adult life, being subjected to social expectations about what I should eat. Perhaps, like other stereotypes, some people ignorantly cling to such ideas, but I certainly believe the heyday of such silliness has passed.

                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                      Take a look at food advertisements and/or articles in a women's magazine. And then those in a men's mag. The social expectations and norms I mention are rarely explicit. But beyond a doubt, they exist.

                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                        Don't confuse the marketing with the product being hawked. Sticking a bottle between breasts may be the way to get a guy to buy the beer, but he's still buying a LIGHT beer. The acceptance of that foul product alone is quite a change to the stereotypes.

                                                        As to articles, even Playboy will do spots on healthy eating, etc.

                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                          Of course marketing and trends have changed - change is constant. It's definitely gotten more accepted that a man would be interested in 'lite' or diet food and drink. But just as that's happened, there are dozens of new products marketed exclusively towards men or women. Seems to me, just as many as I can remember there ever being.

                                                          I don't think I'm confusing anything. Different foods are marketed towards men and women. That is both the cause of and the result of lingering (and sometimes evolving or emerging) gender stereotypes with respect to food. If you don't see that, I guess we can agree to disagree. But one of us is empirically wrong. Find me an ad for Activia in a men's mag.

                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                            Cool. Now I've got something besides porn to check out at the newsstand.

                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                              Sorry for not clarifying, everyone.
                                                              This isnt an academic talk.. its more anecdotal, and a critical look at how SOCIETY sets up expectations for men to eat a certain way.
                                                              Advertisement is a great exampel of this. Special K and yogurt is always targeted to women... "Hungry man 1 LB microwave meals" are always targeted to men.

                                                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                                                Have you heard of the book by Carol Adams "The Sexual Politics of Meat", which is a feminist take on how patriarchy is related to 1) meat production and consumption (e.g. manly men eat meat, if they don't society thinks they are not manly, etc.), and 2) inequality of women.

                                                                You can find an abstract and reviews on Amazon, and then try your local library.....

                                                                1. re: hungryabbey

                                                                  I understand and I think some people are missing the point. The point isn't that men and women actually eat a certain way, it's that there is a perceived difference (i.e. stereotypes and cliches) between the way men eat and the way women eat that is rooted in more generalized stereotypes of men and women.

                                                                  Not only is advertising based on these stereotypes, but it can also reflect them in reverse: a good example is the beef commercial that shows two guys sitting in a restaurant noting with surprise at all the other customers are women (including a pregnant woman) eating beef. This was part of a larger campaign aimed at trying to get women and especially girls to eat more beef, probably because the biggest growing demographic of vegetarians is teenage girls.

                                                                  Take a look at the treatment of gender in these two ads. Both ads are aimed at women, but in the first ad from 1992, the approach is very traditional, appealing to the woman not as the beef consumer herself, but in her role as a homemaker cooking for her family (notice that she doesn't speak and only appears briefly, in profile, putting beef on the table for her husband and family (including three boys) and not for herself).

                                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUxkiz...

                                                                  Or this ad -- again, women are portrayed as preparing and serving beef (including the really hateful stereotype of the woman who is saved from the humiliation of failing as a homemaker by using the advertised product) while men are shown as being the consumers of beef:

                                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VvvAp...

                                                                  This ad, however, from 2000, is using highly gendered symbols (wedding, mother/daughter, bridesmaids in pink) but showing young women choosing beef for themselves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JMfZW...

                                                        2. re: MGZ

                                                          Well, just the other day there was a bit about a study done on how chimps treat sticks - the premise being that the female chimps were more likely to use them as dolls and the male chimps were more likely to use them to beat each other up. The point? To see if that sort of thing is socialization (as we've been taught for quite some time) or instinctual. (FWIW, there are some serious issues w/ that study, but you get the point).

                                                          It's possible that this is the same thing - if indeed there are masculine & feminine eating patterns, it is possible that it is *not* simply a matter of socialization (although I tend to think that it is)

                                                          1. re: jgg13

                                                            Its absolutely possible, and always hard to separate nature and nurture. But I think its best to just speak to the social aspects for my purposes.

                                                            1. re: hungryabbey

                                                              That was my point. As much as we're taught that XYZ is socialization, it's a matter that is becoming increasingly muddier as we move towards the $1 genome, next gen sequencing, etc.

                                                      2. I wonder - perhaps asking chowhounders about this may provide "interesting" responses? It seems to me that there are a lot of adventurous women here on Chowhound who like food very much...I wonder if the same applies to the "general population". :-) :-) :-)

                                                        [Redfish 62 appears to be the only clearly male responder above to the OP's question so far...] :-)