More meals together

August 11, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Said Joshna Maharaj in an interview for this week’s Arts and Entertainment page: “The single most important thing you can do for your family is spend more time cooking and eating together.”

All those Father-Knows-Best soapy old operas and the Waltons – one lot sharing the evening meals that Mom made with her suburban wisdom and in the other, the country news from the home bred boys, Ma and Pa stomping around the rough but mighty board of the dining table where they chowed down to a hearty meal.

All the great historical movies depicting how mountains were moved in elegant dining rooms; history was made and empires fell as politicians and gentlemen representing royalty made decisions that would drench the farmers’ fields with the blood of young men, fighting the battles that were planned over the silver and the crystal on those tables.

Forever, life has been based on the evening meal shared by the characters that assemble to dine at so many tables. It is true. Youngsters brought their school day traumas and victories; teens their plans, aspirations and angst. We know much more about each other when we are cooking and eating together.

When Patricia was a child at school, we met a lovely person who was engaged as another parent at the school. She invited us home to dinner from time to time and I was curious to learn that her two sons normally fetched their meals from the kitchen and retired with them to their individual bedrooms, to play video games while they ate. However, as a gesture of hospitality, our friend insisted the boys stay at the family table with us and I wondered a bit if they resented the interruption to their routine, although the meals were lively with conversation.

However broadly traditions around eating differ around the world as to menus and modes of eating – cutlery, chopsticks, bread – what we all have in common is the habit of eating together. Friendships of all kinds truly begin with a libation or food of some kind. 

In Germany, tradition is the familiar form of “you” or addressing a person by their first name is not accepted until a drink (beer, wine, etc.) is shared. I remember my Aunt Ursel being so offended at the promotional material sent to her by Readers Digest, with the opening “Dear Ursula-”

She would chuck the offensive missive out, saying “These people haven’t shared a drink with me …”

Like German, European languages in general have two forms of “you,” the formal, singular or plural and the familiar which is always a singular pronoun and there is a formality which one uses when getting to know another person and part of that is sharing a drink and a meal.

Because I don’t live a life in a city, bustling between meetings, living the urban dream, I don’t know how important it is to people still to get to know each other over a repast. I often wonder how much the rigours of the Covid et al restrictions have slowed that ages old traditional habit down. A friend described his plans for the evening by talking about a Zoom get together over drinks and food and the idea worried me.

It is like live theatre: nothing replaces being physically together. Or does it? Once restrictions were lifted – for better or for worst, as people are still getting sick on Covid variants, they flocked to festivals and events, filled the theatre as far as was allowed by protocol, as if it is understood that we want to be in each other’s presence, somewhat mindless to the risks, ready to what? Just be within the warmth of other bodies? Just participate in a single pleasure with others we know and who are strangers?

Yet Face Time and Zoom (and other formats) have dismissed distance and the awkwardness the pandemic has imposed of not hugging or even shaking hands, of maintaining a distance between us – how to arrange that if we were sitting shoulder to shoulder in-person? Certainly, when mobility is an issue, technology has provided limited solutions of a sort that can still allow a feeling of company and inclusion. Times are different, for sure but we are still pretty much the same.

At our base, we are herd animals that find comfort and some sort of security in grazing together. The security of good opinion, of affection – since preparing and serving a meal, creating an occasion, is an act of love and the invitation to share a proof of it.

The kitchen in many homes is the focal point where everyone somehow gathers and takes part in preparation and the organizing of the table. All the hands find themselves taking plates and glasses to set at placings and we assemble magnetically not as separate as we usually are but blessed by the uniting of a communal blessing, as if eating together is us at our most natural and happiest.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.