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5 Tips for Building Community Around the Kitchen Table

– contributed by Kathryn Rogers –

Setting the table for a dinner party always makes me excited. Arranging the linens, plates and candles takes me back to happy times with family and friends. So easily my thoughts drift to balmy summer days with vegetables roasting on the grill and the anticipation of guests. No matter the occasion – a summer picnic on the patio, a holiday feast, or a springtime brunch – nothing is better than pairing good people and delicious food.

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Gloomy day beach picnic! Photo credit: Kathryn Rogers.

Reflecting on the joys of mealtime, I’m amazed at how infrequently these busy days I take time to sit at my table and truly enjoy a meal. I often find myself grabbing a breakfast bar for the road, eating my leftovers lunch at my desk, stopping by a deli for a quick bite on my way to an evening meeting.

When did mealtime become a try-to-fit-it-in-your-day task instead of time to gather, nourish and connect? And why, when we do make the time to sit and enjoy a meal, does it feel so good?

The kitchen table is sacred domain – our trusted ally in times of hunger, joy and sadness. We gather around the table to tell stories about our days, to nourish ourselves with fresh ingredients lovingly prepared, to share culture and history in the recipes of our ancestors, to get to know each other on a first date, to shed tears over the struggles we face, to witness big moments like baby’s first bite of broccoli, to laugh. Food brings us together.

It is not surprising, then, that as we have traded shared mealtimes for a quick bite in our cars that our relationship with food and community suffers. In fact, according to a recent article in the Atlantic, the average American eats one in every five meals in the car, and the majority of American families report eating one meal together less than five days a week.

It’s time we reclaim our kitchen tables as a place for building relationships and strengthening community ties. And to start thinking of new people and places to bring together to share food and stories. For it is around our tables that we create new opportunities to collaborate, spark creative ideas, or connect with each other in deeper ways.

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Looking for some ideas to spice up your next food gathering?

Here are five tips to bring even more enjoyment to mealtime:

  1. Invite friends and family to a themed brunch where everyone brings a dish using the same ingredient. Think something versatile like olive oil, ginger or fresh figs. An in-season ingredient from the farmer’s market is also a great option. You and your guests might come up with a dish as genius and unexpected as fig ceviche or olive oil scones.
  2. Designate a guest to bring a question to your next dinner party. Then have each guest go around the table and answer the question. It’s a great way to get to know each other better and discover shared connections. Otherwise you may never learn that your neighbor loves live jazz as much as you do!
  3. Host a cocktail hour and have each guest bring a bottle of wine. Then cover all the bottles with paper bags, number them and do a blind taste test. Ask your guests to vote for their favorite, and award the guest who brought the winning bottle with first dibs on dessert.
  4. Host a picnic in one of San Diego’s beautiful outdoor spaces. Gathering in a community garden or on blankets in Balboa Park brings new energy to mealtime. Encourage everyone to bring a potluck dish and reusable plate. Great food, fresh air, good company and no stress of hosting… a winning combo.
  5. Next time you go out to eat, choose to sit at the bar or community tables and strike up a conversation with those around you. Simple questions about what they’re eating or if they have a favorite drink are a great place to start. Perhaps you’ll end up swapping stories about your shared love for international travel and maybe even end up with a new friend.

Together, we can reclaim our sacred kitchen tables.

 

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