The Science of Eating Together

The Science of Eating Together

There was once a man called Epicurus who bought a house for his friends to eat at and recommended no one ever eat alone. He said, “Before you eat or drink anything, consider carefully who you eat or drink with rather than what you eat or drink.” 

The tradition of eating together has weaved itself throughout hundreds and thousands of years of history. But what is it about food that brings people together? How do things like pizza and birthday cake help us keep a hold on relationships that, if we're honest, mightn't exist without them? 

It's more than the typical Brady Bunch scene where meatloaf and mashed potato are passed from one person to the next in the lead up of an argument between siblings. If we go back in time, hunter-gatherers ate around the fire to establish social relationships that allowed them to survive. Churches and museums often have alfresco paintings of Jesus and his followers breaking bread around a long table. Coming together to eat makes us human in a way very few things have the power to do. 

The ritual of eating together is one of the most natural and convenient ways we can still connect. We don't have to sacrifice much. Most of us already eat about three times a day, and probably snack in between. The time we need to share our thoughts, experiences, and emotions slots right in with the time we need to nourish our bodies.

Now here’s the science of dining in a nutshell: when we take part in preparing food; when we pass it around the table; when we sit across from one another and make eye contact; when we pause to listen and absorb what someone is saying as we chew; when we take time to sit with people —  all these acts release opiate chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are part of our brains pain management system and they benefit our mind-body connection in ways we don't even realize.

Professor Robin Dunbar says, "Endorphins give you an opiate high. That's what you get when you do all this social stuff."

Dunbar goes on to say that social media doesn’t come close to cutting it. Face-to-face connection is pivotal to our well-being. While in theory we live in a society where we’re more connected than we’ve ever been, we’re also more emotionally disconnected than we've ever been. 

But it’s not just our lack of time that’s getting in the way. Our individualized diets have also hindered us from spending time together. Now we're all for eating clean and healthy (clearly - it's the ethos of our brand). But what if I told you that the benefits of eating in company outweigh the negatives of what you eat? According to a study done at Oxford University, countries that prioritize eating together rank lower in obesity and health problems. Those who eat with others are far more likely to feel better about themselves and be satisfied with their lives. 

Alice Julier, the author of Eating Together, says eating together shifts our perspectives towards each other. Our perceptions of people aren't as nasty and we tend to see people on equal levels.

There's this old film you’ve probably never heard of called Babette's Feast. Where Lord of the Ring's is three hours of walking through a field, Babette's Feast is three hours of sitting around a table. The film depicts the beauty of sharing food with people of all different cultures, with a range of different values. It shows how eating together is an everyday choice versus something done for special occasions and how when we partake in it, relationships can be transformed.

Every day we get this small frame of time to eat. In our busy lives, mealtimes are one of the few occasions left to connect, joke, question, share insights and talk about the banal things in life.

The idea of putting on a banquet is no doubt overwhelming. But there are always small things we can do to come back to each other. Maybe that looks like eating lunch with someone on your work break instead of checking your phone; sharing a packet of crackers and a tub of hummus in the park; making a platter board for your girlfriends; or preparing a simple dinner for your household. Remember, it’s not so much the food but the company that counts.

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