Contributing Author: Jared Kaufman
Eating together does more than make people happier—it can help us all be healthier, especially around the holidays.
Conviviality—eating with good company—creates a joyous atmosphere around food that reminds us to honor the food and the people eating it as well as those who grew, harvested, cooked, and served it.
But conviviality can be tough in today’s world. With countless apps that allow for home delivery of nearly any grocery or restaurant item, it’s easy to eat at home. When diners do visit restaurants, they’re now more likely to do it alone: The online restaurant reservation site OpenTable said bookings by solo diners jumped by 80 percent between 2014 and 2018 in New York City. Restaurants across Canada saw a similar spike, with OpenTable reporting an 85 percent increase in reservations for one between 2015 and 2017. In fact, in 2014, nearly half of all meals eaten by adults in the U.S. were alone.
The importance of conviviality has been recognized for hundreds of years, particularly by cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. “Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin,” UNESCO declares. “The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighborliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity. It plays a vital role in cultural spaces, festivals, and celebrations, bringing together people of all ages, conditions and social classes.”
Convivial experiences are not unique to the Mediterranean, though. No matter what you’re eating, paying special attention to the food on your table and the people who brought it to you, sharing stories and recipes, and getting to know other people over a shared meal can break down social divisions and strengthen our food system.
This season, Food Tank is highlighting strategies to bring the spirit of conviviality to your table:
- Cook with new ingredients. If you use a variety of foods in your kitchen, you can learn about the biodiversity of the world’s agriculture while supporting the preservation of cultures’ traditional food systems and crops. The Crop Trust’s Food Forever initiative makes it easy and accessible to incorporate diverse ingredients into your cooking, with recipes that feature items like beans, lentils, and freekeh in delicious soups and side dishes. And through the Crop Trust’s #CropsInColor campaign, you can see photos and videos from around the globe that highlight the beautiful and surprising aspects of a biodiverse food system.
- Slow down your food. Leisurely meals can allow for time to have convivial experiences around the table, which is a central principle of the international Slow Food Movement. But it can be hard to find the time or resources to spend an hour on dinner, let alone a full evening. And Oxfam America offers a dinner-table discussion guide that can help you and your family think about where your food came from, who produced it, and why it’s important.
- Bring joy back to food. There are so many ways to infuse pleasure into your eating experiences, such as making sure to include items you truly love in your diet and pairing food with other enjoyable activities, like reading a book or sitting outside with a friend. Giving food-related gifts is also a powerful way to turn food and eating into a celebratory social occasion, according to a paper from the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition.
- Make conviviality a habit. Establishing routines—choosing a night of the week where everyone in your family sits down together, eating meals at the same time each day, and even getting to know the people you regularly buy food from—can help transform eating from simply a functional act to a communal ritual.
- Take the stress out of cooking. Making meals in advance and freezing them, or turning on a slow cooker in the morning, can speed up mealtime preparation so you can focus your energy on the people you’re eating with—and help cut down on food waste!
- Discuss the importance of conviviality with others. You can do this around your own dinner table, or by hearing from experts at events such as the 10th International Forum of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation. There, speakers including Barilla Foundation president Guido Barilla and Hilal Elver, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will discuss driving sustainable development while protecting the planet.