It Matters That We Eat Together


Last night I went to Canadian Mennonite University.  There was an event called Germinating Conversations:  Eating together at the Table.  The conversation was done in connection with celebrating World Food Day, (and no I didn’t get any cards either).  The blurb at the top of the event page states the following:

Eating is one thing that all people have in common, but what do we eat when we are together? Who grows it? How did it get to our table? What was the impact on the land? Does it nourish? Is there enough? Does it taste good? Does any of this matter? How might these questions be informed by our faith?

Join us for “Germinating Conversations: Eating Together at the Table,” a three-course roundtable conversation with growers and eaters who think hard about these questions.

The evening was lead by a table of seven individuals representing both growers and eaters.  They also represented a fairly wide spectrum of views.  There was a rather overlong introduction, (some of the information could have been in written form).  Then the panel spent the next 55 minutes carrying on a discussion around two topics.

The first was on the question of whether or not it was important to think of food as a gift. There was a variety of opinions expressed around this.  As the facilitator had said, we weren’t solving problems.  We were starting conversations.  In this section they did a good job of this.  One of the good questions raised was whether or not seeing food as a gift, diminished the value of the work put into it?  

The second section revolved around the question: What issues need to be taken into account for a healthy food system.  Individual answers started with such things as soil management and then onto to the availability of enough to feed the world’s population.  The discussion then shifted towards the questions of relationships particularly between grower and eater, or more properly between producer and consumer.  With one panelist in particular focused on eaters coming out to see farmers in action.

After this discussion, we were encouraged in our tables to talk things over together and submit a question to the panelists.  We were one of several tables to  submit questions. Ours was not used. Not surprisingly, because our question didn’t fit into the pre-formatted producer-consumer dichotomy that the organizers had created.  It certainly seems that some conversations aren’t worth germinating.

Our question was:  If we can’t form relationships around the table, how can we form relationships with the people who produce our food? (This may not be exact as we handed it in and I’m working from memory).

Eating Together as the Heart any Food System:

The fact this question wasn’t asked wasn’t my only reason to believe that the organizers don’t believe eating together is important.  There was also a nice little poster showing ten things you can do to get involved in building better food communities.  Only two involved eating or cooking together.  In both case it was as a means to and end. Pass on traditional food preparation.  Hold a 100 mile potluck.  There was nothing all evening about the simple value of eating together.

Let me state before I continue.  This problem is not limited to those who advocate for sustainable agriculture or food security.  The same holds true for those who seek ever new gustatory experiences.  The gourmands are equally guilty of focusing on the food and not the eaters.

Eating together is an end in itself.  Our first experience of food does not come from visiting a farm.  We learn about food at our mother’s breast (or from a bottle).  Then we learn about it by squishing it in our hands, and rubbing it on our faces as we try and maneuver it into our mouths.  Hopefully we learn this from caring parents, grandparents, or other relatives.

Eating stew together.

Stew’s a good choice for eating together.

As a species our first experiences of food were not around the produce of the tilled soil, but rather that which lay to hand.  We formed society around protecting each other, our food, and eating together.

Yet we live in a world that is increasingly fragmented.  We have more single people in our society than ever.  Isolation and loneliness are increasingly high.  One of the results of this is that more people than ever are eating alone.  Some people do indeed enjoy this, but it’s not so for everyone.

Not only that, but eating alone is often a by-product of our “let’s see how much activity we can squeeze into a day” mentality.  Our world moves at a breakneck pace.  Eating together can slow that down.

Eating together is not the answer.  It is part of the answer and, I would argue, a foundational part of the answer.  Knowing and respecting where our food comes from is important.  Eating healthy food is important.  Having enough food for all is important. However, I believe, unless we put more focus on eating together we will never achieve these goals.

Please feel free to offer your opinions on what I’ve just said.  If you would like me to clarify anything, I’ll try and do that.

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2 thoughts on “It Matters That We Eat Together

  1. It surpasses my comprehension just how complicated the discussion becomes when so many interrelated topics are placed on the table – food, faith, land, eating. This has been the attempt of the Germinating Conversations events series.

    One response to this last event is the need to invite some (explicitly) biblical and theological reflections, as well as views and opportunities of the sciences. On the other hand, we run the risk of forgetting that we are talking about food – something very real and necessary to everyday life. I appreciate your comment, “If we can’t form relationships around the table, how can we form relationships with the people who produce our food?… The fact this question wasn’t asked wasn’t my only reason to believe that the organizers don’t believe eating together is important.“ This aptly reminds us that a crucial factor in the disintegration of society and what we eat is, precisely, how we eat – alone or together. We must remember to eat together and to recognize the vital life-giving experience of sharing food.

    Speaking of eating together, it is difficult enough just to talk together! Think – and you won`t have to think too long, of a time when you felt like the odd-one out in a gathering, standing apart, with no one to talk to and the small talk is just plain cumbersome.

    As an organizer of the Germinating Conversations, it has been extremely difficult to invite and successfully bring industrial, large-scale farmers or agri-businesses to the table. Likewise, let me take an extreme example, it is difficult to invite someone eating at Winnipeg’s Agape Table (inner city soup kitchen) to join the chat. Unfortunately, very few Winnipeggers are willing even to volunteer once a week to sit down and eat with unfamiliar strangers, unwilling to get to know another person, unwilling to slow down enough to listen to someone else`s stories.

    I have heard thoughtful feedback from many audience members from October 16th who were glad that the conversation about food, faith, and land, was starting somewhere, holding each other in respect and prayer. Donald notes in the above blog post that “One of the good questions raised was whether or not seeing food as a gift, diminished the value of the work put into it?” I heard the round table on October 16 recognize that this work may be earning the money to afford food OR the work or gardening, farming, or tending livestock, etc. I would add, God’s gifts to us are always of this world – His gifts are the very people and places around us who and which encourage us, give us hope, and through which God’s spirit sustains and inspires us. God works through creation. And, creation has a living part in it.

    It continues to challenge me to daily live both faithfully to the living God and health-fully with my family seeking good food and fellowship. The hardest part is to love myself and love my neighbour as myself.

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    • Thanks, Bethany, for this thoughtful response. I agree that it is hard to get people together across the spectrum of food practices. One of the areas that I want to work more on is the Biblical texts relating to eating together. Also, I think eating together actually makes talking together easier. Perhaps it has something to do with having something to focus on in the lags in the conversation. Again, thanks for your comments.

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