A few weeks ago, we sat down for dinner at a Korean restaurant. The dining room was loud, not from music or a noisy kitchen, but from other guest's voices -- talking, laughing. At every table there was a discussion, often more than one, sometimes food related and other times not. Friends, families and coworkers were together spatially and in spirit. We agreed that this is what mealtime ought to sound like.
There’s a reason why Korean meals have sonic resonance. Traditionally, when gathered for a meal no one has their own food, there is only the food. Arranged are dishes belonging to everyone and no one alone. And in order to get what you want you have to speak up, ask questions, and clink plates as you pass to the left and to the right. The sound is significant, but what it represents is more important. It’s a reminder that a meal is more than what’s served.
A curious thing happens when we take a more individual approach to eating. When we have ‘our plate,’ gone is the biological imperative to be social. Everything we need is in front of us, unobstructed. The loop is closed, so please leave me to my food. But when sharing you wonder, “Did everyone get enough?” or, “Did I have too much?” I believe that the reflex to consider others is strengthened, if not born, at the table. And the outward focus achieved through sharing an antecedent to a more meaningful discussion.
The combination of good food and good people has a fixative effect on memory. We hold onto these memories so we can relive and replicate in the future. When I reflect on meals where conversation flowed effortlessly and evenly, there’s a common thread – we shared what we ate. More than the food, the connections left us feeling sated. Our brain’s reward system accepts all kinds of currency.
Many of us are lucky enough to address our caloric needs with relative ease. With this luxury, we tend to sacrifice some of the cooperation and togetherness that once defined mealtime. But with some forethought and planning, we can to revert to a better and noisier way.