Throughout most of my childhood, we would have a full family-style feast at least once a month with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered around somebody’s table. Whether it was a home cooked meal or a night out at a restaurant, dining together was a common occurrence. Even when we grew up and our schedules became more difficult to coordinate, family dinners, this time with just my parents and siblings happened nightly, and it was rare for us to eat without one another. But it wasn’t only the evening meals that were shared. Until high school, my brother, sister, and I would have our toast and fruit, and glass of milk together every morning before heading to school, where at lunch we would gather with our friends and eat. Although there were moments where I struggled with my relationship to food, particularly foods that made me feel different, for the most part it has brought me many happy memories.
Now that I’m firmly entrenched in my (late) 20s, dinner parties have made a steady reappearance on my social calendars. Trading in nights at the bar with dozens of acquaintances for intimate dinners with a close group of friends feels much more my speed and honestly, I think the quality of our relationships have improved. We still have moments of pure silliness, perhaps the result of one (or two or three or four) too many glasses of wine but unlike those bar nights, our conversations feel much more genuine and we discuss our thoughts and ideas freely.
Food’s ability to nourish, sustain, and connect us has always been heavily imbued in my mind; for me, the act of eating together is also an act of sharing. In those moments of sitting down for a meal, breaking bread, or whatever you want to call it, food joins us together.
Clearly, I am not alone in my admiration for the dinner party which is why private dinner clubs (this one is my personal favourite) and events such as Diner en Blanc seem to be popping up with increasing frequency. There is something magical about the conversations that take place over dinner.
But could you imagine having dinner with a group of strangers? And no, I don’t mean group dates or business dinners.
The Dinner Party is a group that aims to do that – but there is a catch. Designed for people in their 20s and 30s, the organization puts together pot luck dinners, matching participants to tables in their community while taking into account their location, interests, and a variety of different factors including their loss. Yes, this is a bereavement group. However, instead of meeting in a room with a dozen chairs gathered in a circle, you meet in a room with a dozen chairs gathered around a table – and there’s food.
I love this idea. Having gone through group counselling, I know how liberating and helpful this process can be but I also have to admit that the first few times I went in, I felt intimidated not necessarily by other people in the group but by the monumental nature of what I was doing. The thing about group is that you’re there not only to tell your story, you’re there to support others in the telling of theirs. It’s a lot of emotional weight to carry but it helps lessen their load. To me, it makes perfect sense then that we bring food into the equation, which in addition to nourishing and sustaining us, also brings comfort.
Dinner parties also foster a feeling of intimacy that helps breaks down barriers hopefully to generate and inspire conversation. And while I’m not saying this is the perfect environment for everyone, if you’re struggling with loss, in need of support, and want to meet others that are going through similar experiences – you may want to look into this program.
This program obviously caters to a specific group of people and while you may not qualify for membership (thankfully!), there’s nothing stopping you from organizing a dinner of your own -whether it’s with your friends, family, or even complete strangers! The point is, eating doesn’t have to be a breakfast sandwich on the go, lunch at your desk, or dinner in front of the TV, (although we’ve all been there and sometimes there’s no alternative or hey, that’s what you want) but eating can also be fun, meaningful, and a time to be together.
It’s a luxury to set aside the time, prepare a meal, and enjoy it slowly but if you can, try to find even one opportunity every so often to prioritize yourself and your relationships. I’m not a great hostess myself – my best friend slept over this weekend and I’m sure she’ll attest to the fact that it’s a pretty no frills experience – so I’m not trying to convince you to buy the right napkins or cook a nine course meal for 30 of your closest friends, but sometimes it’s nice to slow down, (re)connect, and hey you might even get something out of it other than a meal.