The White Lotus is the epitome of water cooler television. In an age when streaming services and binge-watching reign supreme, somehow HBO was able to bring back appointment viewing with this series about terrible rich people on a luxury vacation. With that distinction comes a deluge of hot takes about the current season, which range from lusting after Aubrey Plaza to dunking on Haley Lu Richardson’s wardrobe. But across every episode thus far, there’s one detail we’re stuck on: Why are these people all eating in the hotel restaurant every single night? As Twitter user @svershbow writes, “YOU’RE IN ITALY!!!!!!” It’s enough to make you wonder whether rich people even like food at all.
There are two things we know for sure are on the menu in The White Lotus hotel restaurant: ravioli and white fish. Early in the season we see married couple Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza) discuss their orders, with Harper dismissing the fish for being too “fishy.” In the world of The White Lotus, dinner means conflict. Each visit to the hotel restaurant peels back a layer of the relationships between the guests while the meals themselves are a mere afterthought—despite dining at the poshest resort in one of the world’s premier culinary destinations, no one so much as mentions the food.
All that Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) wants at the beginning of her stay in Sicily is a big plate of pasta with giant clams, and it’s one of the few meals we see being eaten outside of the resort itself. But that meal is tinged with tragedy, as Tanya’s husband (Jon Gries) reveals he needs to leave Sicily for a few days, a move that, in true White Lotus fashion, has its own sinister implications. Tanya is left to sob into a plate of empty clam shells.
One of the many thesis statements of The White Lotus is that being rich is wasted on the rich, and the characters’ relationship to food bears that out. Instead of trying a delicious local pastaria, the Di Grasso men (F. Murray Abraham, Michael Imperioli, and Adam DiMarco) venture out for lunch at a tourist trap with a replica of the car that exploded in The Godfather. Money can’t buy you taste.
So far, season two has relentlessly interrogated the idea of pleasure, and what that actually looks like to different people. Food, for these characters, is not about enjoyment. Going to the hotel restaurant is a moment to be seen by the other elites staying at the hotel, a marker of status more than a chance to enjoy a meal (or eat one at all). Pleasure comes from being perceived as successful or loving, even if that’s not who you are behind closed doors. An Aperol spritz exists to bolster the illusion of a perfect vacation, and therefore it doesn’t even matter what it tastes like. And if none of that matters, why bother ever leaving the convenience of the resort?
It’s not just The White Lotus, either: Many of the year’s biggest hits have involved rich people we love to hate. In Succession, food is weaponized, as characters are forced to eat sausages on the ground like animals and family meals are an invitation to manipulate each other. In The Menu, the wealthy restaurant patrons calmly accept their own demise, not because of the beauty of their last meal, but because they want to be part of the elite group who gets to experience something exclusive. In both instances, the food itself is secondary to the hunger for status.
And lest we think this distaste for food is a hyperbolic way to represent excessive wealth, we need look no further than The Real Housewives. The women of each franchise are perpetually arriving to dinners hours late, not touching a morsel of their food, and opting for Taco Bell in the end. At least it’s not another hotel dinner.