I recently discovered a new phenomenon in San Francisco: a seatless Starbucks.
In between appointments, I sought out Starbucks for 15 minutes to recharge. But there was nowhere to sit.
This was not because a swarm of entrepreneurs, remote employees and students had turned every table into a cubicle or library for the day. It was because there was no furniture.
It was your average-sized Starbucks. There was definitely room for tables and chairs. Yet there was none. It was kind of like standing in a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant.
Determined to not take my coffee to-go, I discovered a 2-foot-wide stoop underneath a window and squeezed my 6-foot-7-inch frame into this tiny box just above the floor.
I enjoyed 15 minutes of awkwardness and a weird stare from a businessman. Then, I got the message from the failure of furniture: You are not welcome here. Get your coffee and get the hell out.
Apparently having overstayed my welcome, I finished my coffee and fled.
As I struggled to make sense of the walk-thru Starbucks, it hit me: Americans are in a hurry – always. Our priority is productivity: Do more. Feel less. Be stressed. Stay busy. Get shit done. Drink more coffee. Repeat.
We value productivity over people. When it comes to the obligatory act of nourishing ourselves, we value saving time so that we can get this machine back to work over enjoying time eating with others.
Americans do not spend enough time on the act of eating. We spend less time preparing our food. We spend less time enjoying it. We spend even less time doing all three of these activities with other people.
We seem to minimize the amount of human interaction around food to as little as possible. We order food to-go. We purchase meals, ingredients and groceries via app.
When we do dine with others, we tend to meet at restaurants or to order takeout. Eating homemade food together in one’s home is so rare that it merits a special term such as “potluck” or “dinner party.”
Preparing food together is especially unheard of. Even those special dining events at least ensure some solitude during the preparation process.
The era when sitting around the dinner table with your family and trading stories from the day was the norm and not a punishment also is gone for so many of us in the United States. Devices and other distractions at the table have replaced this ritual of connecting and caring, which prevents us from appreciating the people and abundance in front of us.
Eating is not something to check off of your to-do list. Neither is socializing.
Our culture has destroyed the community around consumption. It is time to rebuild it.
Nutrition starts with connecting with the food that we put into our bodies and the benefits that we receive from it. Nutrition evolves through connecting with other people to engage in this sacred ritual together.
Food is social and communal. It creates communication and interaction. It brings people together.
The process of preparing meals, eating and even cleaning up afterward gives us a reason to slow down enough to connect with one another. Meals convene us in one place physically. They allow for communication between minds and spirits.
The cultural character of food empowers us to embrace our unique roots. Yet its universal nature also makes it an inclusive activity.
Preparing food for others even can be an act of love.
When we rush to prepare food, order it to-go or via app, or scarf it down at meals, we passively miss opportunities to build community around food. When we trade people for devices as our dining partners, we actively shut out opportunities to connect.
When I have a family, sitting together at the dinner table will be the way that we connect, share and grow together. How can you start to bring back this amazing chance to build community in your family and with your friends?
Here are six tips to start:
Take a deep breath and tell your server that you will not be ordering your food to-go today. Take a seat and enjoy the process of connecting with your food and the accompanying socialization with the staff and other patrons. Enjoy the full process of the meal.
- Hunt and gather.
Close your apps and voyage to the grocery store. A grocery store is an antiquated establishment where you can purchase food to prepare for yourself to consume. Interact with at least two other shoppers. Initiate conversation with at least two employees.
Instead of meeting at a restaurant – again – invite your tribe to your home to prepare a meal together. Do not order the meal or its elements from an online service. Purchase the ingredients at the aforementioned grocery store and assemble them together.
Stop eating at your desk. Step away from your computer. Put down your phone. Find a human being to dine with. Consume your food and their energy. Warning: Taking time to connect even may increase your productivity upon your return!
The next time that you dine with another person, see how slowly you can eat and how long you can extend the meal for. Pause between bites to look at the human being whom you are in the presence of and to fully listen to what they are saying. Chew for longer periods so that you can process your food and their words more thoroughly.
Before you take the first bite of your next meal, pause to think about all of the people who contributed to the creation, delivery and sale of it. Send them silent gratitude. You even can thank your food, which perhaps is or was alive at some time, for nourishing you.
We fill ourselves with food as if we were starving. And we are. But it is not for food. It is forconnection.
Nutrition can deepen community. Community can deepen nutrition. Nourish others. Let others nourish you.
Feel the fullness when you allow the combination of food and connection to satiate you.
A Maur Unity collaboration, edited by Maura Bogue