There’s hardly anything more common than eating. It takes time, money, and effort, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it multiple times a day. In fact, we shape our lives around our need for food: companies and schools build lunch breaks into the schedule, holidays are celebrated with feasts, friends meet at coffee shops, and lovers woo over candlelit dinners. Clearly, there’s more going on here than simply keeping our bodies functioning. And don’t forget the gym memberships and diet programmes designed to compensate for our meals – you might say our relationship with food is complicated. Whatever else you say about it, though, you have to admit that food is powerful. Beyond it’s nutritional value, it packs an extremely high relational value as well (although it often seems that the foods with the least nutritional value have the most relational value, like ice cream and chocolate and cheesecake and pretty much every other dessert).
Eating together with others is much more than a way for each individual to survive. A shared meal is a shared experience of need (we are finite and hungry), enjoyment (especially if it’s cheesecake), provision (a need met), and time. It’s little wonder then that throughout history a shared table has been a symbol of intimate friendship, while a refusal to eat with someone is a sure sign of disdain. But sharing a common table does more than symbolise closeness – it actually encourages it by providing positive common experiences and time for conversation.
This is why hospitality is so closely associated with meals. And why our family has made it a priority to eat together every day. Not always every meal, but every day if at all possible. Not always with gourmet dinners and lengthy discussions about deep and important topics, but still together, even if it’s leftovers and corny jokes. Setting aside our dinner hour to be together has given our family a predictable time to connect and interact, even if the rest of the day is filled with frenetic activity in a hundred different directions. Shared meals have shaped the pattern of our daily life around community. We are not just several individuals who happen to be living under the same roof, we are a family. That means something. And for us, one of the things it means is prioritising time together around the table, and whenever possible, sharing our table with others as well.