My name is Backcountry Mom, or at least this is what my friends call me because I love adventuring in the wilderness with a ton of food in my backpack. It is true that I am cautious and plan for the worst. To be honest, I am also very bad at packing and judging how much is needed. Nevertheless, I always loved hosting people; in my house, my funky camper, or on a tarp in between two backcountry ski runs. Why? That is a good question for the Dalai Lama who once said, "I sometimes think that the act of bringing food is one of the basic roots of all relationships."
Think about it. If you want to know someone better professionally or romantically, discuss an important subject, meet new people or just catch up on life with friends, traditionally it would be to meet up around food and drinks. This can applies everywhere on the planet, with the exception of cannibalism culture, where they would literally have you for dinner! What is it about sharing some food that puts us in such a relaxed and communicable state? Could it simply be that while eating, our brains relax and we are more apt to be in the present? There is anecdotes of other species also using food and eating to ‘make friends’. Horses and deer, for example, pretend to chew when they are trying to be accepted into a group. A new ape trying to be accepted into the group will show up and eat, or pretend to eat leaves.
In his book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan argues: “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” The Webster dictionary defines culture as follows: “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time that has its own beliefs, ways of life, way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization”.
Around food, we have a context to built that specific culture. A communal meal, ideas, and opinions can all be shared, discussion can flow or arguments can escalate but there is always a common ground, the meal.
When working as a coordinator performing environmental remediation, I always took the time to have tea with the homeowners prior to digging up their yards. I truly believe sharing establishes trust. It helps develop an interrelationship with a caretaker and caregiver roles.
Next time you sit down to share a meal with friends or family, or cook for visitors, remember the significance of this often undervalued experience. For hundreds of thousands of years our relative’s way to experience a social life was based around the acquisition and sharing of food. It is often the primary time to communicate to the ones you hold most dearly, so please don’t take it for granted or think that just because it is necessary for survival that there aren’t any meaningful and mysterious aspects to the experience. Relating to each other is one of the most important elements in a social creature’s existence; the meal is a time and place for relationships to sprout and grow.