When my wife and I first bought a condo we also bought a bespoke reclaimed barn wood diner table. It is the sort of solid looking table that you can dance on top of, or that if men wrestled near, could hold their weight. It looked funny in our “stylish” condo, but it spoke to a core value of ours, eating together. The table, for us has always been central. Even as university students we made our meals and sat at the table, rare was the night eating on the couch or alone.
We both grew up eating with other people. My folks fostered kids and had a pile of their own and so as a little child I would guess I rarely ate alone. It is a funny thing this eating together, growing up I literally never thought about it, it was just taken for granted that we would eat together. This required systems, it wasn’t all Norman Rockwell stuff. We had a chair that if you sat in it you were the one to get another bag of milk if we ran out while eating, and another chair that you would have to go downstairs to our second fridge to get more milk if there was none in the upstairs fridge scouted out by the first chair. As myone-day-to-be-wife found out, even if you were a guest your chair dictated this role…I think you can get the picture.
Argue as we might we sat down together every day.
At a table.
I know not everyone does it and I know you do not need one more thing to do and yet I want to make a small pitch for eating with other people, and yes even if you live alone there are options (at least in non-covid times) for regular meals with others.
The first subtle benefit of eating with other people is learning patience and self-control. We have had to teach our children to wait for everyone to get to the table before they can eat (we also say grace which creates further delay because we are Christians). This teaches our child the art of slowing down, controlling their little bodies even when hungry, respecting others through their actions, to say nothing of learning manners. Waiting for others in an act of love.
The Apostle Paul gets mad when he learns that some churches eat in something akin to shifts (and some shifts got short thrift on provisions), where is the love in that? We are to honour each other by waiting for each other and then sharing what we have.
When we eat with others we show them our love for them.
When we eat with others we also love ourselves because we are not meant to be alone and food is better when it is communal.
Food tastes better with others, I am not sure why but it’s true. Whose all time favourite meals were eaten alone???
It is easier to be grateful for the food and for life when we eat with others because we are eating better and there is someone to share our sense of gratitude with.
Paying attention to the moment we are in is easier when we eat with others because we can be present, drawn into the moment at least in part because (if we are doing it “right”) there will be no screens vying for our attention pulling us away from conversation and food.
Paying attention to what we put in our bodies might also be easier when we eat with others, a positive peer pressure. I ate way more vegetables in my life thanks to my wife, maybe that’s just me.
Conversations and connections happen as we eat together, and yes, fights happen as we eat together. In this, we get to know each other better and clarify our own thoughts as well.
Real life happens as we eat together, spills that need cleaning up, dishes that need cleaning, problems that need solving, tears that need shedding, stories that need telling, plans that need making.
The image of a group meal, perhaps in a special location, pulls at our souls, like holiday meals, weddings, and even the food after a memorial service as we gather to remember.
I believe the table is important and it is a spiritual practice in the best souls satisfying sense because there is a table we are meant to share with others, the wedding feast of heaven, and our souls respond to anything resembling that meal. So, if you haven’t made a habit of eating with others maybe set a single meal as the goal, Sunday dinner, Monday breakfast, whatever might work, and see how it goes.