Join us for dinner is a key slogan for us at Food for Thought. It clearly articulates our call to action, inviting all women to join us for an authentic Syrian dinner. Encouraging women of different cultures to come and share a meal together, creating a unique experience for acceptance and trust to grow.
But what is it about dining together that is so special? What makes the daily act of eating so magical when it is shared with other people?
I think we can generally say that we eat because we need nutrients to survive. However, this does not require any ceremony and could now with modern technology be substituted with a pill. But what we eat, how and with whom is a hot topic of daily discussion. The abundance of food magazines, blogs, cooking shows, etc. all dedicated to the glorious act of making and enjoying food are evidence to the fact that food is important. (I too must confess I am guilty of posting my, obviously amazing, food creations and foodie moments on instagram).
But these modern day examples of our obsession with food are nothing new and not limited to the instagram, Facebook culture. Food and mealtimes are universal, existing in all societies, cultures and social classes.
When searching for information of eating together, I got lost in a wealth of interesting articles. Magazines such as the Washington Times reported on the health benefits of eating together in order to reduced stress or the risk for Alzheimer’s Dementia through maintaining social interactions. While Swedish Medical Center’s blog touted the „7 benefits of eating together as a family,“ including family togetherness, better nutrition and prevention of weight problems in children.
In the workplace eating together also helps to create more cohesive work teams. An article for Harvard Business Review discusses work from Cornell University, where researcher claimed to have found an easy solution - encourage teams to eat together. Eating together allows co-workers to relax and talk to colleagues, boost team building and makes people happy.
But what really interested me were the articles that dived deeper into the cultural reasons for why and how we eat.
Anthropologists have long studied the dining habits of different cultures. Gillian Crowther, author of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, stresses that sharing a meal with with someone, eating and drinking at the the same table - is one of the essential displays of society in all cultures. Mealtimes are traditionally events when the whole family or village/community comes together. Community gatherings around food are found in example of feasts, such as at weddings. These are ritually held not only to feed the guests but also have the purpose of uniting everyone together in celebration, or in their general disappointment with the menu choice/limited supply of wine.
The ritual of offering food to guests or to strangers is a fundamental part of most cultures. Next to the showing off physical or military strength, food is the next best thing and often used to impress the „outsider“. From as simple as putting the kettle on for a cup of tea in England to the colossal hospitality of the Near East, as every Food for Thought guest has experienced, every culture has a ritual.
The „welcome meal“ invites newcomers not only to the table but into the fold whether it be to the family, the village and/or the nation. Through eating together we learn from one another. Sitting at a strangers table, mastering their etiquette and tasting their cuisine are powerful ways to learn about other societies. Eating together also helps to establish trust and trust is a key element in building relationships.
At Food for Thought we are following in the footsteps of other groups, bringing people together through food. We hope that we can make a difference one dinner at a time.
I love the topic of food and eating together. I’m sure you will hear some more from us about it. We would love it if you would leave us a comment about a dining experience you’ve had. Maybe it was with new friends, in-laws, a host family? We’d love you to share.
Photographs by Ewa Podgórska
Radcliff, Dr. Nina. “Benefits of Breaking Bread Together - at a Table.” The Washington Times, The Washington Times, 14 Apr. 2017, www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/14/health-benefits-eating-together/.
“7 Benefits of Eating Together as a Family.” Swedish, www.swedish.org/blog/2014/10/7-benefits-of-eating-together-as-a-family.
“Team Building in the Cafeteria.” Harvard Business Review, 24 Aug. 2016, hbr.org/2015/12/team-building-in-the-cafeteria.
CROWTHER, GILLIAN MARY. EATING CULTURE: an Anthropological Guide to Food. UNIV OF TORONTO PRESS, 2017.
Fox, Robin. "Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective," Oxford, UK: Social Issues Research Center, pp. 1-22.