Written by Lee En Tong (19-U2), Sargun Kaur (20-E4), Tan Yu Wei (20-E6)
Designed by: Kothandam Anusha (20-E4)
“Then all the gathered friends sat in a circle, raised their glasses and toasted the one whose presence, sympathy and quiet advice had meant so much over the years: the one they all knew as Community.”
- Excerpt from ‘What Gives Us Our Names’ by Alvin Pang
We all know that one of the most basic things we need for survival is food. We need it for sustenance, but it goes way beyond that to play the role of bringing people together. Before the pandemic descended upon us, our Instagram stories were mostly videos of people cafe-hopping with friends, sharing a plate of roasted duck from the school canteen or bonding over hot pot at Hai Di Lao. Of course, this would be every epidemiologist (“Disease Detective”)’s worst nightmare concurrently.
Eating dinner with extended family is also no longer a weekly affair. Ordering food for one another and ‘eating with friends and family’ over video conferences has become the new norm but it is just not the same. Video-calling is a great substitute during these trying times but there is something about real meetups with people, to talk about their joys and difficulties, that video-calling can never replace.
And this made me realise how significant a role food plays in bringing people together.
From Korean dramas that often feature friends squabbling over fried chicken and barbecued meat, to students like ourselves enjoying a sumptuous meal with friends after exams and lamenting about how difficult the papers were, eating facilitates social conversations and enables us to strengthen our bonds with others within a community.
Screengrab from YouTube
A research conducted by the University of Oxford suggests that communal eating increases social bonding and well-being, as well as enhances a person’s sense of contentment and belonging in the community. Moreover, those who eat socially are more likely to have a wider social network that supports them socially and emotionally.
With many people recognising the power of communal eating in their personal life, some people in the community have leveraged on it to do good in society.
One might remember a Straits Times video feature on Kenneth and Adeline Thong, who opened up their homes to homeless teenagers and young adults for them to stay in. While communal eating was not the main highlight, it was interesting to notice that it acted as a medium for the couple to facilitate conversations among them and provide a sense of community to those seeking a home.
There’s also Mabel Tan, a resident of Bendemeer, who started her own Let’s Makan sessions by the Singapore Kindness Movement to bond with her neighbours over meals.
Having illustrated the benefits of communal eating, it would also be apt to highlight that eating alone also has its benefits. Growing up in a society where eating together is a norm and serves as an important medium for social interactions, one may be uncomfortable with the idea of eating alone as it connotes antisocial behaviour. However, it is interesting to note that eating alone is being increasingly preferred and practised in other cultures. The famous Ichiran ramen restaurant in Japan features solo-dining booths to minimise social interactions and allow customers to savour the flavors of their ramen. These solo dining booths also stem from Japan’s culture of appreciating solo customers so that they do not have to worry about not having company. Research has also found that ‘time spent in solitude can be mentally restorative’ as reported by Vice.
Photo by Alex Staniloff from NY Eater
Given that we will have to continue to practice social distancing as long as this pandemic lasts, perhaps more F&B joints might consider similar dining features that encourage diners to eat alone. Whichever your preference may be, all of us definitely look forward to the day when we can dine out without worrying about our safety and be able to catch up with our friends and families.
Serena, D. (2018, March 20). [Photo by Alex Staniloff from NY Eater]. Retrieved from https://ny.eater.com/2018/3/20/17142782/ichiran-midtown-food-photos-menu
The Swoon. (2020, May 08). [Screengrab from YouTube]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HshnkJPDaSQ
University of Oxford. (2017, March 16). Social eating connects communities. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-03-16-social-eating-connects-communities
Way, K. (2019, November 5). More People Than Ever Are Eating Alone, and It’s Making Everyone Nervous. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/gyz9qy/more-people-than-ever-are-eating-alone-and-its-making-everyone-nervous