Eating communally must be one of life’s greatest acts of everyday diplomacy.
It’s such a simple thing: we’re obliged to eat, and sometimes we do so with other people… but think of how many great debates or disagreements you’ve had with friends or family during that seemingly casual event. Think of how much you overheard from the grownups’ table as a child, and how many awkward or enlightening moments you’ve had to navigate since.
My dad was in London for the weekend, and the first meal we had together was a midnight snack involving about three hours, life objectives and thoughts on ideal futures. Most of my most memorable conversations with the pops have been held like that – late at night over a kitchen counter or dining table, with scraps of cheese (well, in this case, fish and chips) and wine standing by. I’ve always known my dad to be really busy, but those impromptu meals always seemed to create more space in the day.
Last term, two friends and I also stumbled into the happy tradition of Monday morning breakfasts together (indeed, it’s the Monday Breakfast Club). Every week, we find ourselves lingering for hours at the cafe we settled on that week, picking at last pastry crumbs and coffee sips while hashing out our weekend, projects, relationships, observations about what’s up and what’s down. I discovered my love for these breakfast dates sometime in college, and they’re one reason I usually regret staying up too late at night.
I was reflecting on these things several nights ago, when I used a bottle of beer to try out a bread recipe my cousin Tiffany adapted. It was supremely easy to make (because the beer already captains yeast), but the nicest thing was enjoying it with my flatmates, some really fantastic jam (that I took from the the hotel my Dad stayed at), and simple chatter winding us down for the evening.
One of my favorite words from this cool list of untranslatable words is sobremesa: “the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.” Isn’t that a fantastic word!! I may have learned more facts and theories and data sitting in school, but how much more have I learned to defend my opinion, give one up, have my worldview challenged and assumptions about life taken down – at the dining table with my relatives and friends. These non-class communal settings are where we learn to sway and be swayed, and you can never predict just how.