Food is more than nourishment; it is a joy which can bring people together, and its connective power is needed now more than ever. Food has a power which goes beyond the physical. It can be more than just an experience for the taste buds but can inspire and unite – powers which we value even more after a crisis which forced us apart. It isn’t just the taste we enjoy. It’s the company.
In primary school, children trade lunch box treats; swapping Freddos for chocolate digestives and making friends in the process. Food can provoke laughter, particularly when culinary endeavours don’t quite go to plan, and the meal can’t be distinguished from a pyrex dish of black ash. Friendships can develop through any food experience, a celebratory banquet at the end of term or even a Taylor’s sandwich in the University Parks. Eating is universal, it is a shared experience. While not every meal has to be a memorable feast, eating together the odd time, rather than at our desks with only Netflix as a companion, can bring us together.
Coming together for a meal is a tradition as old as the bible. The disciples gathered for the Last Supper where the breaking of the bread was not only a symbol of the body of Christ but an experience which connected the twelve apostles. We can scarcely begin to imagine the grandeur of the feasts served up in the Roman Empire, and maybe it was munching on those platters of meat and cheese together which made them such a powerful empire. Given that their relationship lasted two days, perhaps it was the 10-course meal on the Titanic over which Jack and Rose formed such an intimate bond. Countless are the times we wish we were guests at Nigella (aka the Domestic Goddess) or Jamie Oliver’s dinner parties, joining in the conversation and gorging on their creations. Food can be an explosion of flavours in the mouth, but the taste is not the only memorable part of eating together.
Food is a form of cultural expression. We learn to appreciate and understand our diversity as a global community when we are exposed to new flavours and culinary traditions, whether that’s a coconutty curry, salty ramen, a stack of pancakes or even fish and chips. Food reveals more than what we eat or how we cook, but who we are and why exactly we come together to eat it, be that munching on puris under Diwali Lights or enjoying chicken soup and matzah balls while gathering for Shabbat. During the festive season, the uniting power of food is more evident than ever. Arguing over when to take the turkey out or experiencing a mass stomach ache after consuming a mound of chocolate sound familiar? Meals at Christmas can bring people together, even if only one household is allowed to devour the feast together this year.
And if you were lucky enough to have one, Freshers’ Formal, the first test in understanding the years’ old traditions of Oxford, is indeed a bonding experience, as you wrestle with whether to sit or stand and attempt to withhold your giggling spurts as Latin phrases are recited. Buying someone a vodka shot while cramped in a sweaty club wasn’t really an option this term, and so a coffee and a pastry from Pret or the weekly bubble meal was a way to forge friendships. After months of eating only at the kitchen table, we also have a renewed sense of the importance of restaurants, the communal experience of eating out being a rare treat between lockdowns.
Food is nourishment for our bodies, our souls and our hearts. As Hilary Term draws near and uncertainties remain, remember the power of food. Bonding might not happen during a night of club-hopping this year, but a dinner party of six can be just as enjoyable, even if it’s chaotically prepared in the confines of your tiny shared kitchen and consumed on the floor of your bedroom. We all have to eat, so why not eat together?
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.