One of my favorite church traditions is going out to eat as a group after services. For most evangelical churches, this usually means heading to the nearest Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans or American buffet-style restaurant, all of which I personally enjoy occasionally. That’s beginning to change with emergent and progressive churches, as they might add Chipotle or a modern-styled restaurant that offers meager portions and both vegetarian and vegan options for a much higher price than you’d usually like to pay.
I’m not about to argue the value of traditional American food versus more progressive, nuanced forms of obtaining sustenance, as I try not to be judgmental. But then again, we all know the Bible commands us “9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs,” making hog roasts one of the few Biblically proper modern means of meat preparation. It continues, “10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it,” showing God’s disdain for keeping leftovers, so you better make sure you intend to eat all that hog before you start roasting it.
At my current church, the University Church of Toledo, which I will gladly unhumbly brag about whenever I get the chance, instead of just grabbing your favorite group of people who attended the service, the pastor invites everyone in attendance to a meal at a local restaurant after the service has ended to continue the conversation the pastor began with his sermon. The church frequents an Indian restaurant among a few others in the area.
Something I greatly appreciate about many other cultures is the communal manner of food service. At the Indian restaurant, for instance, everyone orders their own dish, which they might share with others. There is also bread and rice, which are served in bowls that everyone passes around the table to scoop some onto their own plate.
I like the practice of sharing food. I feel that it brings people together over a common goal, if you want to call it that. The goal being
shoving as much food as you can into your own mouth before anyone else gets a chance leaving enough to be able to share and make sure everyone gets some. It also adds a communal element is not quite as present as when everyone just gets their own plate or heads to the buffet line. It’s a shared experience, so if there’s a dish everyone particularly likes (or hates), they can share their appreciation of it (or if there’s any leftovers, fight over who has to reluctantly take it home).
Sharing a meal is an event that is easy to bond over. For one thing, it’s a common interest for most people. Eating is an activity pretty much everyone has an interest in. It’s something you gotta do that is enjoyable, and if you go to a restaurant, it’s an excuse to not have to do your own preparation work for, or an excuse to not have to go to the restaurant alone. I mean, there are lots of activities common to all people, but using the bathroom is something you generally don’t want to share with someone else.
In Chinese restaurants, a large group will generally order several dishes, which are placed on a large spinning disk in the center of the table that allows easy access for everyone who wants some. At one job, I had a friend from Ethiopia who would bring food that he would share with me a few times, where you just reach in the bowl and take some. That might intrude upon some people’s standards of cleanliness, and if you’re not used to it, you may want to make sure you’re pretty good friends with the people you eat with before you trust them sanitarily to touch all the food you’re about to put into your mouth. Then again, if you visit some African countries, you may not have a choice who you share the food bowl with.
Also cool are churches that still do potlucks. Garrison Keillor on his radio show, Prairie Home Companion, was well-known for playfully making fun of Lutheran churches that love to do potlucks, but it’s a pretty cool idea for community to have an event where everyone brings a dish to share with everyone else. It leaves the possibility for feelings of rejection if you end up taking home most of what you brought, but, seriously, it’s good for building a sense of community within a group.
In case you don’t know of Garrison Keillor, I’ve provided a video as an example as to what he does. I don’t know if he ever actually gets around to talking about potlucks in this video, but it’s always possible. And there’s the possibility he may just lull you to sleep with his rambling.
Food can be a deeply rooted cultural art, and it’s always interesting to learn about cultural traditions that the food stems from, and it’s someone everyone has in common, so I think it’s kind of important that we all share in it, which brings me to my point.
With fast food and the business of the culture in the U.S., it feels to me like food has lost something. Food has become more of a necessity and a commodity rather than something that promotes a good community environment. Like everything else, it’s something that’s becoming deeply individual. Even at most restaurants, everyone gets their own plate. That’s a far cry from everyone sticking their hands in the same bowl! Instead of being an event, eating something everyone does on their own time, often privately.
In many ways, greater independence is a good thing, and it’s something that’s very important for society. But for people like me, it becomes kind of lonely. I like eating with others, just as I like spending time doing many other activities with others. Interdependence, though it can lead to abuses sometimes, much of the time it will bring people together instead. And even as our country and world become more individualistic, it’s sad to me that we live in a world where it’s very difficult to meet new people.
And I think sharing a meal is one of the easiest ways to meet people. I’ve written about the commodification of music before, something that’s true of any art. Generally, everything is commodified due to capitalism. It stinks that food is included in that.
I’m not expecting that everyone should drop everything they’re doing thrice a day to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with any random stranger they can find or have tea time or anything. I realize people are very busy, which I think it’s a good thing for general productivity.
But if we could all find time to sit down at least once a week to sit down with some people beyond our own families to share a meal and conversation, it would make for a much warmer and more friendly society in general. Don’t just go and stick your hands in someone else’s food and call it community though, that’s not a good way to make friends.
Food, we all need it, so let’s use it to our advantage as a society.