I was recently asked about the best meal I've ever had. Being the daughter of a man who thinks about what he'll be having for lunch at breakfast, and knows what he'll be making for Sunday dinner on Tuesday, it is without doubt that I took this question quite seriously. Whilst agonizing over my short list of top three favourite meals, I realized that they all had one thing in common. Beyond mouth-watering food and impeccable presentation; a significant component of an exceptional meal is the people seated around the table.
What do we crave when we feast and fête? Certainly, the titillation of taste buds can last from 10 minutes to three hours; yet that is hardly an eternity. No, what is lasting, what evokes memory, is our need to connect, to sit belly to belly and recognize one of our own. For most, this begins with family food or cultural food. We spoon feed (pun intended) our children to recognize our regional and national heritage. Sometimes it is to laud our family culinary prowess with declarations such as, "my mother makes the best spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, insert-dish-name-here around." Sometimes it is to carry forth our traditions into the next generation. Whatever the reason, identity is formed at the kitchen table. As we grow and begin to share meals with neighbours, peers, colleagues, our sense of cultural food expands. Often the smell of foreign spices and herbs piques our curiosity and draws us to one another, and soon we have a fusion of flavours served at our own table. This new identity has become comfortable and we don it like a well-loved sweater.
A prime example of this is the Food, Faith, and Community Project in Victoria, B.C. This year-long initiative sought to strengthen interfaith relationships through cooking classes and shared meals hosted by local faith communities. The kitchen is a place where one's critiques and opinions need not be sugar-coated; if you dislike raw fish then your distaste for sushi is simply understood. It is a preference, and regardless of our own tastes, we do not take offense to others'. Sharing the experience of cooking and eating together sets a framework for honest and open dialogue—whether or not it extends beyond the matzah ball soup.
Humans have been revelling and feasting since biblical times. Feasts in my home can range from the preparation of family favourites for the birthday boy to dishes from the latest gourmet magazine spread to please a new guest. Praise and discerning commentary is never miserly and often evokes fervent debate. As the wine continues to flow and the dessert is served, we are satisfied with the meal, and with the company. It is perhaps for this reason that two out of three of my top meals have taken place at my own dining table.
Convivium means living together. We welcome your voice to the conversation. Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Send it to them now. Do you have a response to something we've published? Let us know!