“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art” – François de La Rochefoucau.
We live in an era were we spend more time communicating with each other through our smart devices than through physical contact. Let’s not even talk about how most of us prefer to sit in our work desks alone with our soggy lunches from last night’s leftovers instead of laughing about it with colleagues who also brought unsatisfied meals. Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. “In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in their car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week” (Delistraty, 2014). It is definitely a pity to see so many Americans missing out on an opportunity as small as a 15 minute break to simply relax and have a meaningful conversation with someone. And a meaningful conversation is just one of the multiple other benefits eating around a communal table can bring to an individual.
Unfortunately, in America it seems snobbish or unprofessional if you take more than 20 minutes to have your lunch. There is also a cultural misconception that only bourgeois families can afford to have family dinners as both parents are able to be at home for that time. It is true many cannot afford to have both parents stay at home to cook and spend a desirable amount with their children. But that does not mean there doesn’t exist a way to make up for that time, or even find it. We, individuals, always find the time for things that we feel important. Sacrifices have to be made, but for good causes. So yes, socioeconomic situations make it more difficult, but that should be of no excuse to let a child grow by himself. One does not need to spend an hour dining with their beloved. It is okay to have small meal times since we all have things to do. All that matters is putting in the effort.
Getting accustomed to eating alone has quantifiable negative effects both physically and psychologically. Many research studies mention how children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week were 40 percent more likely to be overweight since they make poor food choices by choosing convenience (McDonald’s) over quality (a homemade meal). On the other hand, those who do have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance and report being closer with their parents (Columbia University). Dining with others cultivates our minds, allows us to pay attention to the whole eating experience, strengthens relationships and builds new ones. The communal table acts as a unifier, a place of community. It is the perfect excuse to catch up and talk about life.
At one point, people saw communal tables at restaurants as retrograde, awkward and a painful experience. Restaurants wouldn’t dare placing a communal table as part of their setting. But people now clamor for more interaction in their daily lives – especially when living in such an exhausting city like New York. And so when the restaurant industry started to experiment and take the “risk”, it was a total success. From Starbucks to Le Pain Quotidien to Momofuku to Son of a Gun in LA, the communal tables have found their ways in all types of restaurants around the country. It is a win-win for both the restaurant and the individual: the restaurant does more covers in the same space (more money) and the individual expands his/her network of relationships.
Human connection is necessary for human evolution, and the dinner table does it better than almost any place. Our company, FoodtoEat, has partnered with Product of Culture in order to push this statement further and break barriers. For one night, Product of Culture and Food To Eat will create a communal dinner table for 50 people to have a culinary experience curated by NYC based immigrant chefs. The mission is to unite people around the communal table and add diversity to the food community by championing small businesses that offer a unique and delicious selection of cuisine from across the globe. This experience is much more than just eating healthy and delicious food. It is about grasping the experience of building a connection with a stranger and also going through the culinary journey of three distinct immigrant chefs. It is why this article started with a phrase from a 17th-century French writer. It mentions the necessity of eating intelligently, which is not only eating food that nourishes our bodies and souls. It is also psychologically speaking of sharing a meal with a friend, a family member, a roommate, or even a stranger.