The Greek philosopher Epicurus believed in trying to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one’s lifetime. His emphasis was on pleasures of the mind, not physical pleasures. To Epicurus, the company you keep at meals matters more than what you eat. His name is the origin for the word epicure.
A good meal is about more than taking food into the body
Eating can be an act of pleasure, a time for relaxation, and a way to stimulate all the senses, not just the taste buds. It’s also a wonderful way to spend time with people and enjoy their companionship. Metaphorically, “breaking bread” means to have a meal together, and it is a phrase that has long been associated with building relationships.
A recent study found that college students who regularly share a meal with those of different backgrounds had a more positive experience of the cultural climate on-campus, and their interactions with others in the dining hall were more positive and enriching than they were in the classroom and the dormitory.1
As renowned chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich says in the video Food is Love, sharing food establishes deep connections with others. “I think collectively, we should be together at the table much more often than we are,” she says, “beginning with the family eating together, to the leaders, eating each other’s food at the table and maybe discussing the poignant issues over a nice bowl of pasta.”
Table talk: Let’s eat together
A new grassroots startup called The Family Dinner Project (thefamilydinnerproject.org) is dedicated to the idea that food, fun and conversation about things that matter is important or families.
"Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: Sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with behaviors including lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”
What works for families works for any group of people—and any meal. The global success of Starbucks is due in part to its convivial atmosphere that encourages conversation. And many cultures are known as much for the social aspects of wine or cocktails as they are for the food, including Spain’s tapas bars, Italy’s penchant for meeting for an aperitif before dinner, and Japan’s izakaya, where workers can stop for a drink with friends and colleagues before heading home for dinner.
Of course, dining out can provide all the benefits of dinners at home—without the distractions of food preparation and clean-up. Just remind everyone to turn off their mobile phones.
Dinner: A conversation starter
The magic that happens at family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the conversations around it. Three in four teens report that they talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives during dinner; and eight in 10 parents agree that by having family dinner they learn more about what’s going on in their teens’ lives.2
1. Lowe, Maria R., Reginald A. Byron, et al. Food for Thought: Frequent Interracial Dining as a Predictor of Students’ Campus Racial Climate Perceptions. Pending Publication to The Journal of Higher Education.
2. “The Importance of Family Dinners VI,” September 2010, part of an ongoing study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.