Who doesn’t know the desire for a good meal, dished up with love and shared with good company? An acquaintance of mine recently did an informal poll on social media, asking if people minded eating alone. While a few conveyed enthusiasm, most said they preferred eating with friends or family. In my growing years, our dinner table was a sacred place where individual pursuits were put aside in favor of community bonding—thanking the Lord for our blessings, listening and talking, sharing ideas, debating, laughing, and enjoying each other—while savoring our meal. For many Americans, my present self included, life’s rapid pace means that eating is often mindless and solitary. It’s easy to forget that sharing physical nourishment with others has a way of nourishing the spirit as well as the body.
I’ve recently had a small, but persistent, digestive health issue that has made me change my diet and rethink my eating habits. I realized that I, a single lady with a busy housemate, was eating most of my meals alone. I didn’t take time from work to eat with my co-workers, since I don’t get a paid lunch period and didn’t want to make up the lost time. I sometimes go out to a late dinner with my tango group, or occasionally eat out with friends, but I realized that most of the time, eating had become a perfunctory action for me. Yes, I cooked nutritious food, but I ate it in a mindless way, usually as I prepared to run out the door to an evening activity. So I started making efforts to eat lunch with my coworkers. I organized a community potluck in the park. I sometimes call a family member while cooking or eating. Now, in addition to making more effort to connect with others over meals, I am more mindful about giving thanks, chewing well, breathing deeply, enjoying the flavor, and not overeating.
Even (and perhaps especially!) those immersed in marriage and family life can find it difficult to find the time to eat a proper sit-down meal together, though studies show immense benefits from doing so. One scholarly article asserted that children who shared regular family meals had less delinquency, were less likely to engage in disordered eating, had greater academic achievement and improved psychological well-being, and had more positive family interactions. While our culture encourages a lifestyle of frenzied activity, our physical and spiritual health depends on slowing down and connecting as we ingest both natural and spiritual food.
Why does connecting over food feel so good? According to New Church teachings, food corresponds to goodness or love, and breaking and sharing bread (as Jesus did so many times) represents spiritual bonding (see True Christianity 433). We naturally associate food with love, and often with relationships. Psychology journals are full of articles making this connection, and if you give it some thought, it makes sense. Wholesome food can be flavorful and it nourishes our bodies, giving us energy to work, play, and interact with others. We crave love as we do food, and in the same way, we can feel spiritually hungry or satisfied in our relationships. We can crave and consume unhealthy food, but like unhealthy love or poor substitutes for genuine love, it doesn’t contribute to our long-term wellbeing.
If you want to bond with friends, family, your church group, or other communities, sharing a meal can go a long way to bridging gaps and fostering goodwill. I know that taking communion at church makes me feel connected, not only to the Lord, but to the other congregation members who are sharing the bread, wine, and experience with me. Even if I can’t always share my meals, it’s nice to remember to savor food as a blessing and remember that though our relationships don’t always provide just the right nourishment, there’s Someone always waiting to come in and dine with us, and His love never runs out.