Have you ever noticed, how and how many of our relaxing conversations center, veer or gravitate towards food? Besides being a basic need (and wifi is no comparison, please), food has the power to elevate, connect, and boost joyful exploration, learning and creation.
To the better placed and well-endowed among us, the ‘most recent’ pandemic provided a luxury of time and space to take a microscopic look at what we eat and drink on a daily basis, and then reconfigure our food-plates. From the total lockdown days when home pantries were raided and recipes conjured to deploy what-all was available, largely to obliterate any requirement of stepping out, we have now limped back to a situation where nearly all pre-COVID food – fast and slow – is available for asking (and buying). And yet, some newfound gastronomical habits have stuck and do appear resilient.
One of the most significant impact of COVID-19 on our eating habits, especially at the workplace, has been the fatal blow dealt to the practice of eating together. Food behavior at my workplace has likewise undergone a few rounds of moulting, before reaching a state of comforting equilibrium (at least for now).
Initially, as the office re-opened, there was so much of home-alone fatigue that STFD (Socializing at Two-Feet Distance) became the pillion-rider’s helmet – common-sensical, essential and yet stifling. Team members converged in the dining hall during lunch time, but ate out of their own boxes. Then a few female colleagues adventured into food-sharing in a small way, a practice so contagious that we reached a crescendo of no holds-barred food-sharing within a fortnight. But it was not long before the chakra turned, and the ominous-looking mortality and infection graphics spewed daily by the media-multitude reined us in. Relenting, the team realized it was for everybody’s good to eat in smaller groups spread over our two floors and six rooms. It worked… ahem, for some time. Every lunchtime, people were looking not for food, but for some one to eat with. The small group which had taken to eating in the dining hall soon swelled, and as if drowsy with a bonding that numbed us to the fear of infection, the group was back again.
A wiser one raised a flag again, and coincidentally around the same time, the dining hall was transformed into a videoconferencing room – a structural change that put paid to all gourmet bonhomie. Food groups became better defined and their dens demarcated. But who can break the spirit of camaraderie fueled by palates? One afternoon, an enterprising colleague threw down from the third floor balcony, a food container nestled in a polythene bag that hung from a sturdy rope secured to the railings. And we were back in the food, love and happiness exchange business. And so it continues.
There is some evidence to show that sharing meals contributes to increasing happiness (for reading findings of a non-Western study, click here). Eating together is known to have led children to report better relationships with their parents, and to quote C. Delistraty, “In her book Eating Together, Alice Julier argues that dining together can radically shift people’s perspectives: It reduces people’s perceptions of inequality, and diners tend to view those of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds as more equal than they would in other social scenarios”. At the same time, puncturing the nostalgic version of family meals is a 2019 study by Lindsay and colleagues that proposes that the shared family meals may just be a proxy for other social determinants of health, and “supporting flexible and healthy eating beyond the dinner table may be a more fruitful strategy for promoting public health, and could create a more peaceful and practical mealtime”.
We revel in this ambiguity and follow the heart. In an organisational context, food can be the glue that brings teams together in the right configuration for building a healthy work environment. Team lunches level and unify. Nowhere and never have I experienced the expression “A family who eats together, stays together”, come alive and throb so vibrantly as in our workplace. Blessed are those who cook, share, and partake together. It is an experience to nurture and feel immensely grateful for.
M.F.K. Fisher rightly said, “”Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” Can a GPT-3 ever be trained to effuse such genuine warmth and spontaneity, I wonder?
Wishing everyone a well-nourished entry into the new calendar year; may we be blessed with the ever-glowing warmth of love, giving and togetherness.