Coming together by eating together


By Emma Goodwin

It’s almost Thanksgiving and we all know what that means: Weird dinner conversations with family members that you only see a few times a year. It’s a holiday that is defined by eating together as a familial community.

While I love Thanksgiving, it never felt particularly different to me than other days, since I come from a family that ate dinner together every night.

Despite busy schedules, it was always a given that when my mom called for us to come downstairs, the five members of our family would convene around the table for a good meal (after all, my mom is the best cook in the world — just like everyone else’s).

Not every night was a scene out of “The Brady Bunch,” and eating together all the time never made us the all-American poster family. But it became a much-loved part of my nightly routine. It was a great half hour for us to talk about our days when we otherwise didn’t always see each other. (Of course, when I say I loved it, I block out the cleaning that took place afterwards.)

I thought when I came to college, I would be missing out on this part of my day. I would have friends and a cousin who go here, and we would maybe eat together depending on our schedules. But I still didn’t think it would be the same as eating with regular nightly troupe.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    After all, eating as a family has so many benefits: Teens who eat with family show lower rates of substance abuse, eating disorders, depression and teen pregnancy — not to mention higher levels of confidence, grade point averages and possibly higher vocabulary. 

    With all of those familial benefits I’d been reaping throughout my childhood, I didn’t want to start missing out on them once I started college.

    But I was wrong to be worried about missing out. If you make the effort, eating with friends on a daily basis is not only possible, but nearly as fulfilling as eating with family, and it can provide benefits of its own.

    That’s why it’s important to have ersatz (that vocab boost, man!) family dinners at school with friends — meaning substitute your typical family meals with college pals. Whether you’re living in the dorms and spend meal times eating at a dining hall or whether you’re puttering your way through making pasta in an apartment, carving out time to eat with other people should become an important part of your daily routine.

    Even if you don’t come from a family that did this daily, or even weekly, it’s a good habit to start now.

    One of the biggest rewards is that eating together can help elevate happiness and curb depression. This comes from social, face-to-face interaction. While social interaction is easy to achieve by hanging out, sharing a meal is a time to talk to people void of distractions — especially if you have a no phone rule.

    Eating is so frequently seen as a social experience: If you want to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in ages, chances are, at least one of you will suggest a coffee joint or sandwich shop. With such social connotations associated with grabbing a bite to eat, it’s no surprise that this outlet of social interaction makes us happier.

    Another benefit is that it provides much needed pauses during studying. With finals coming up, eating a meal is a good time to relax and recuperate. Productive studying requires taking breaks to let your brain breathe. Eating a meal with someone kills two birds with one stone: You refuel your brain with food, and you also get to talk to someone and get the mental clarity you need to go back and study effectively.   

    Enjoying a meal with friends helps mimic the benefits that many of us are fortunate to get back home. For me, having this in my routine means going as far as planning my meals around when my roommates or cousin are free.

    This Thanksgiving break, try to enjoy more meals at home with your family, and at Thanksgiving dinner, remind yourself the importance of communal dining.

    When we come back, finals season will be right around the corner. I encourage all of you to take that time to start eating meals together on campus, too. Even if it’s late night Chopstix, take solace in the fact that splitting chicken lo mein and crab rangoon with your roommates can still make you much happier and can improve your grades. Plus it tastes good — no brainer, if you ask me.

    Emma is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].