Since the beginning of our shared history, humans have gathered in pairs and groups to eat. The act of communal dining has been ingrained in human conditioning throughout time and across cultures. “Dinner’s ready!”, a triumphant announcement, is the quintessential phrase that transports us back to childhood, a call that beckons us to come together around our family table. And together we’ve come — around hearths dating back 300,000 years, hand-carved surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, and tables with dovetail joints predating any written history.
First brought together by our common need for sustenance, we soon found ourselves breaking bread and sharing stories, bumping knees under the table for motivations far beyond that. Eating together represents a tradition that has not only outlived any primal necessity for survival, but continues to serve more than its original purpose of satisfying one’s basic needs. Food acts as a centerpiece for human connection, a universal emblem of togetherness.
Finding our place at a communal table in the modern world is becoming a bit of a rarity. After combining Protestant work ethic with the American Dream, our culture has become discouraged from breaking for meals. Perhaps we’re influenced by characters like Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, who preached that lunch is for wimps. Regardless of where these habits come from, 62% of professionals say they eat lunch at their desks, alone.
Stuck in the perpetual drive of our fast-paced and often frenetic society, we argue we are ‘too caught up’ in our daily lives to devote proper time and attention to the way we consume. Schedules fill up quickly with meetings and deadlines that take precedence over nourishment, which then gets relegated to an act of necessity, secondary to our duties.
But what if we heralded mealtime as an opportunity to deliberately slow down? If we choose to make decisions around conscious consumption, we can become the architects of our life experience. We can amplify our mundane mealtime, habitually sandwiched between a computer screen and desktop, into a momentary practice of mindfulness.
Efforts of this nature can help boost us into a paradigm shift where professional progress moves in tandem with personal progress. Research has shown that modern day workplaces — regardless of industry — are beginning to provide social spaces for coworkers to come together. This is largely due to the understanding that social interactions, however minimal, can aid in employee satisfaction and productivity. This is the same motivation held by Steve Jobs who, when designing Pixar Animation Studios, suggested placing the building’s bathrooms in a central location, in an effort to cross-pollinate human interaction. These non-obligatory forms of engagement and cross-disciplinary consilience are proving to not only enhance productivity, but personal relationships as well.
Choosing to sit and eat together not only has an impact on that meal, but could have larger implications on our lives, both socially and biologically. Taking a moment to pause and connect with others at mealtime gives us the opportunity to enhance our metabolic and digestive functions. Mindful eating translates to a healthier feedback loop between body and brain, tummy and mind. Nietzsche once said, “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” This body wisdom manifests in the stress-reducing hormones that flow through our brain when we express gratitude, and in the way that delicious smells prompt our stomach to start releasing digestive juices.
Richard Cytowic, Professor of Neurology at George Washington University, referred to this body wisdom when he described the enteric nervous system as a “mesh-like network of neurons that lines our entire digestive tract” and carries information to the brain. If we rush through a meal, we “may not give this intricate hormonal cross-talk system enough time to work,” he says. This enhanced psychosomatic function could be creating ripple effects throughout our daily human experience. Ripple effects of slowed, more mindful consumption.
Together, we can evolve our culinary traditions into tools for personal growth, social engagementand collaboration. We can use the shared meal as a means of tethering ourselves back to our shared existence, uniting us with others and exercising our role within our community.
Blurring the lines and easing the tensions between body and mind, dining and socializing, consumption and consciousness.
At The Assemblage, we practice shared dining with communal breakfast and lunch offerings designed to reconstruct our cultural interpretation of the office lunch. Members and guests congregate around the communal table on the ground floor daily, connecting to those around them and savoring meals with the people they see everyday, whether in meetings or in passing. These shared meals act as a transformation mechanism, a way to connect more deeply with each other away from our phones and laptops. It brings us closer—not just as colleagues, but as humans and collaborators.
Too often we say we don’t have time to sit down and eat together, particularly during the workday; but is that just an excuse we’ve told ourselves for so long that we believe it to be true? What if all it took was simply being aware that we can stop, notice the colorful display of food on our plate, and invite a stranger to pull up a chair and join us? Now that would be a delightful meal, would it not?