Contemplating The Eternal Dining Question

by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence

"Do I prefer alone or with others?"

Looking back to my childhood and how fraught with peril the supper table was for me as the youngest of four, whether personally directed or as residual fall out, I mostly remember snippets of the following:

"You are not leaving the table until your plate is clean, young lady! There are starving children in Africa that would love to eat your food."

Fidgety bodies.

"Don't gulp your food, stuff your mouth or inhale your dinner...etc."

Clashing adolescent vs adult wills over clothing, hairstyles, school, and choice of friends.

Sullen non communicative teenagers.
Impassioned arguments.

"Elbows off the table" ditty complete with being "forked" in the offending arm.

Mom's infamous "Italian Liver Delight"

Yet, even after a childhood of the above, I still prefer dining with family and friends to dining alone. What does companionship bring to my table?

Is it a world view? A reaching out towards community over neutral, albeit savory, ground? The greater willingness to try new tastes and mull over differing opinions when "in the same boat" as others at the table? Does the act of eating push the mute button on the "Flight or fight" impulse? Is it as James Beard said about food and eating, "a universal experience? "

Or is it the social craving? The mutual sharing of sustenance and substance: food for the soul and food for the body. The stimulation of good conversation heightened by the complexity of even the simplest of flavors. "Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared. " - Jesse Browner.

Or is it a simpler scenario?  A basic love I freely admit it: I dream about food. I scheme about foods. I LUST after CERTAIN foods. (Perhaps less than a dozen...I am not "easy!") Then there is "The Trinity" that I secretly wish I could just mainline. Seriously. 

Food lovers unite. We cluster. We group. We compare. We enjoy. We tend to specialize in both nonverbal sounds and specific "foodie" verbage. The "ummmms," "slurps," and moans can rather limit the conversation. Alternately, talking animatedly about "spatchcocked," "dropping consistancy," "Malden salt," "gambon" and salmagundi leaves guests confused if they aren't like minded.

Or is it a much simpler magnet that draws me to dine with companions vs singly? (Setting aside the universal book in face while flying to keep others at bay.) So I keep pondering...searching for the right words. And I found the answers in the words of two of my favorite celebrities:

"People who love to eat are ALWAYS the best people." - Julia Child.

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." - Sophia Loren.

Julia did not put qualifiers as to race, religion, world view or politics...just an ALWAYS. And Sophia wasn't just alluding to being poor and only having spaghetti on the table. The real SIMPLENESS, the real TRUTH of her childhood meals taught her thankfulness and grace. It let her experience the many ways one could create different dishes from the same ingredients; much like an actress takes her same body and becomes a different person for each role. (When next in Italy, order spaghetti. It will never arrive the same way.)

Dining together is a REAL action/act of one's belief in the simple and basic fundamental of being human: that we need each other... each coming to the table as an individual...and received in our truths and frailties. Whether graced simply with spaghetti day in and day out, or with "cuisine" prepared by one of the most iconic hands in the culinary kingdom; I believe those present at the table have the BEST in them to flavor the meal...the conversations...the relationships.

So, come take a seat at the table, wherever you may find it. I'll be waiting.