Friday 12th December. What a special special day. A joyous day. A day of tears and belly-aching laughter, of paper hats and food hygiene certificates, chocolate reindeer, setting fire to Christmas puddings…and napkins… and lots of hugs. A day of true celebration.
As we cooked and enjoyed a Christmas meal together, as bakers and trainees on the course, the reality of the community that has been formed at Luminary over the past few months hit us. There’s no ‘them’ and ‘us’, we mutually care for and learn from one another, sharing new experiences and stories, we’re vulnerable and real, encouraging and supportive. Although our intention was always to create an atmosphere like this, I think we are all surprised at just how quickly and powerfully it’s happened. And boy it’s happened.
For a while I’d been curious as to the root of these relationships I saw developing. Was it baking alongside one another? Or seeing each other on a regular basis? The Mylife course? Maybe it was something we put in the cakes…? But it was only at this Christmas meal that it became so clear. Intentionally sitting down and eating dinner together. Every week. Taking time out to chat over good food and just be. That’s what. That’s what has cultivated these relationships.
Tim Chester says ‘meals force you to be people-orientated instead of task orientated. Sharing a meal isn’t the only way to build relationships, but it is number one on the list’.* And that’s so true. Sharing a meal takes us out of ‘classroom mode’, away from the ‘to bake’ list, and allows us to see each other in situ, in life, as we are. ‘Meals have the power to shape and reshape community. A person to whom we may have related to in one role becomes a person to whom we related to as a friend’. *
‘In her book Eating Together, Alice Julier argues that dining together can radically shift people’s perspectives: It reduces people’s perceptions of inequality, and diners tend to view those of different races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds as more equal than they would in other social scenarios.’ ** Around our little fold-down ‘dining table’ it no longer matters that we’re teachers and trainees or from different situations or challenges. There’s no head of the table. The women teach us as much as we teach them. Conversation’s spontaneous and unpredictable. We share stories from our weeks, struggles, breakthroughs, a video we saw on Facebook, a recipe we found in a magazine.
It’s intentionally eating together that creates space and time to engage with one another’s lives beyond the course. ‘Sharing food cultivates community because the implications of the meal extend beyond the time of eating together…the framework of a communal meal creates a free space, “an environment in which people are able to learn a new self-respect, a deeper and more assertive group identity, public skills”(Evans & Boyte, 17)’ ***
We don’t just want to teach our Luminary ladies how to bake. We want them to grow holistically. I guess dinner’s been a great place to start.
*A meal with Jesus, Tim Chester
** The importance of eating together, The Atlantic
***Rebecca Katz, Western Kentucky University
Photo credit: Tom Browning Rose