Sharing Meals, Sharing Life
By: Caroline Rubach
– “Caro…” – “Sí?” – “Cenamos?” – “Sí!”
This is my nightly call to the dinner table: my invitation to share a warm meal and good conversation with my padres. I look forward to these meals all throughout my days, and I miss them dearly on nights spent away from home. It is not even the simply delicious food on my plate that causes a warm excitement within me; it is the time of conversation and relational connection, spent with people I love, that creates in me a wholesome peace and joy.
Argentine culture has revealed so much to me, especially in the way that come to the table. Perhaps the most significant piece of wisdom I have gained is the relational focus the Argentines place upon every aspect of their lives – relationships are of the highest importance. In the states, I recognized in myself the need to remember to prioritize family, and then friends, over all other things. Here in Argentina, prioritizing relationships does not fit into the category of “must-do,” or “remember-this.” It is simply embedded deep within the culture: living in communion with the ones you love is the only truly significant matter in this life.
Being a part of an Argentine family for these past four months and sharing meals around the dinner table every night, I have come to recognize the losses we suffer in the states as a result of our individualistic culture. Growing up in the states, I have been indirectly taught the American value of individual cultivation, putting pressure upon myself to succeed. This belief in an individual’s ability to live a full and happy life through their accomplishments has caused a relational disconnect among us. We are isolated.
I have now experienced the power of consistently shared meals, and I now understand just how much influence our mealtimes can have upon our relationships, our values and beliefs, and our joyfulness (or lack thereof).
Let me set the scene for you:
We seat ourselves at an ovular wooden table; our three chairs are close together around one end. When I am called to dinner, I settle into my normal seat and pour water for Beatriz and then myself, as Juan Pe pours himself a glass of red wine. Beatriz holds her plate, serving portions of the warm meal she has just cooked in the kitchen, and then passes it to me; I receive this plate and pass off my plate for Juan Pe; Juan Pe then receives his full plate and passes off the plate in his place setting to Beatriz to hold her meal.
This process of passing off our plates for the other’s meal has quickly become one of the most endearing parts of our dinnertime for me. This, and the family-style dishes Beatriz brings out every night, served with a big family-style spoon. There is something special about eating the same food together: meals feel more relational when shared, both in content and in conversation.
Delicious food is eaten, the salt and pepper are passed, and conversation is shared. I update Juan Pe and Bea on things going on at school or ask them questions regarding things I have recently heard. Juan Pe and Bea update me on Carito, their precious granddaughter, or answer my hundred and one questions. Often, long after food is finished, when conversation comes to a natural lull, we pass our plates to Bea, and from her famous dessert is served: bananas and oranges.
As dessert is passed out, conversation is continued, dessert is enjoyed, and sweet tooth cravings are satisfied. The end of our meal is marked by Beatriz organizing plates and spoons onto her tray, Juan Pe and I still conversing, laughing, occasionally trip planning. When all is done at least an hour later, I bring the water pitcher into the kitchen, and Juan Pe, the bottle of red wine.
Each dinner shared with Juan Pe and Beatriz is a relational building block, strengthening my bond with them and connecting me to them in ways that a passing conversation in the hall could not. I feel loved by my padres and feel love for my padres during this special time because we are intentionally focused upon one another – all eyes, ears, (and mouth) – fully present and ready to enjoy one another’s company, to share in conversation, and to connect over a shared meal. There are no phones to distract; there are no deadlines to cut dinner short; there is just a focus on one another.
My friend Amy once read that when a group of people share a meal together regularly, there is an inimitable harmony produced within the group. During my time here in Argentina, I have shared countless meals with both old and new friends, and from these times around the table, I have become apart of a family.
During your next mealtime, I encourage you to share your dish with another person, dive into conversation, and let it be a time and space of intentional connection and relational presence. Reflect on how your physical mealtime practices reveal the ways you connect to others
You just might create family out of friends through a simple shared meal.