Eating is an act of trust. When I walk into the room, my cat, Aengus, often heads straight for his food bowl. You see, our very large goofball of a dog had once dashed over to Aengus's bowl, while the cat was eating, and devoured every morsel. We were all relieved because at first it looked as though he intended to eat the cat. Aengus certainly seemed to think so. Now, Aengus waits until my husband and I are present before eating his food. My guess is that he trusts us to watch his back, and that this perhaps mirrors the behaviors of, say, a pride of lions, each taking turns eating and watching the horizon (or, in this case, doorway) for other potential predators.
In humans, the act of eating triggers our bodies to produce oxytocin, which affects our ability to trust and form bonds with others. The communal table truly does contribute toward building community. When I think of how, for years, I spent lunches alone at my desk, catching up on work, I regret the missed opportunities to get to know my co-workers and form lasting bonds. At least now my husband and I can form bonds with the guests who eat breakfast at our place each morning.
Red Rabbit Farm on Orcas Island, owned by Bruce and Christina Orchid (of world-renowned restaurant Christina's fame), serve family style dinners at their place near Westsound on Orcas Island. At a long farm table, under an open-air canopy, and with views of the water and islands, the setting is sumptuous. Friends and neighbors--some longtime, some just met--savor course after course of farm-fresh and organic dishes prepared by the Orchids and their amazing staff. Dining in this idyllic setting, I can't help but wonder what would happen if the people of the world had the chance to dine regularly with strangers from strange cultures. I suspect we would all feel a little less foreign to each other, that we would bond, learn to trust one another, and develop true friendships. What would happen if you invited someone culturally different from yourself to dinner with your friends or family? Would it be the equivalent of, "I've got your back. You're safe here. Relax and enjoy." Would you be contributing toward world peace? Want to give it a try?
Jill McCabe Johnson's research and writing practice follow the tradition of the French Medieval poetic form, the "chanson d'aventure" or song of adventure, where a writer walks into a new environment for enlightenment and inspiration.