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OP-ED: Where Conversation Meets Food

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By Mary Alice Proffitt

Spring is springing in Vermont, and everyone is excited for planting and the arrival of our outdoor farmers’ market. After the long winter, our bodies and spirits crave the satisfaction of having our hands in the dirt and the rewarding experience of eating fresh food. But food alone is not enough to sustain our well-being.  Good conversation is, in my opinion, just as important for health and happiness. Combine the two, and receive both food for the belly and food for the soul.

Enrich your mealtime with more conversation by adding these following strategies to your daily meals.

Cheers to your health and happiness this spring!

Set the Table

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Even if you’re just bringing takeout home, take a few minutes to really set the table with napkins, silverware, and fresh flowers or candles. Clear away papers and junk and create a special space that sets the stage for slowing down and making the meals less about consuming food and more about fellowship and human connection.

Start your Meal with a Tradition

Pass the squeeze around the table while holding hands, ring a bell, read a poem aloud, say an “OM” or a prayer, share a moment of silence, sing a song—whatever you choose to do, begin your meal time with a tradition that calls yourself and everyone with you into the present moment.

Ask a Dinner Question

Open your meal with an open-ended question like “If you could be teleported to anywhere in the world for one day, where would it be and why?” or “If you had a superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?” The only rule we have at our house is that you can’t repeat someone else’s answer. 

Keep a Dictionary Handy

Park the devices out of reach and instead keep an old-fashioned dictionary by the table. A great conversation starter is to pass the dictionary around and have each person flip through it and randomly pick out a word.  Words such as “nincompoopery” and “guitarfish” aren’t just fun for kids to read aloud, they also create opportunities for discussion of science, history, the arts, and language itself.

Discuss the Headlines

News is happening every day, and mealtime is a chance to digest that news together and make important connections. When controversial subjects arise, try to move the conversation around so that everyone at the table can weigh in. Give introverts fair time to speak. If emotions run high, ensure that everyone feels welcome and safe expressing their opinions.

Practice Manners

While manners can often feel old-fashioned or out of touch to many, it’s important to remember that practicing manners with our family and friends is just a way to live a life of mutual respect. Manners are subjective and relate distinctly to each person’s culture and upbringing, but taking the time to practice them helps us communicate well with others. 

Look Back, Look Forward

Mealtime is a chance to both reflect and to look forward. Recognizing together a raise at work or great schoolwork creates pride in a job well done. Likewise, talking together about the calendar and looking forward to upcoming holidays or trips creates opportunity for conversation.

Expand your Family

If you live alone, invite a friend to join you for a meal once a week. After all, friends are the family we get to choose. And if you live in a busy household, keep your eyes out for people in the community who may benefit from sharing a meal with you and yours. 

Mary Alice Proffitt is the owner of Down Home Kitchen in Montpelier.