By LJ Phillips (DCI Fellow)
According to celebrity chef James Beard, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Food always has a unique way of bringing people together. The most prominent conversations or interactions that I can remember in my life almost always involved food in some fashion. The act of eating with another person or persons makes people more sociable. We are less on-edge and are more vulnerable to one another when we share a meal.
I found this realization to be even more supported by the first Commons Conversation this semester. As a facilitator, I found it difficult at first to find people who wanted to engage in a deliberation during their lunch. People did not seem to want to spend their lunch time deliberating in the beginning but decided otherwise once we started to deliberate.
Our deliberative topic was about mental health. It is a sensitive topic for some but eating together eased the tensions throughout the table and you could visibly tell that people are not only comfortable but eager to speak to one another.
I wonder about that change in tone and mood from previous deliberations. As conversation went on people seamlessly felt accepted and were glad to share their personal opinions on the topic. This was the effect of deliberating in a less stressful environment under serene circumstances.
With regards to the actual conversation we had, it went well and the crosstalk and conversation among deliberators was orderly and coherent. The easy-going and well-meant nature of the discussion made my job as a facilitator more enjoyable and pleasant. Interruptions were not needed by me because the subsequent group respected each other despite their differences and lack of knowledge of each other.
I think the reason for such cordiality was that we were dining with one another. We can all relate in that we not only need food as humans but desire it. Eating with another person has shown to be a great way to ease tension and be more relational with someone. Whether you are eating at Vail Commons, Davis Cafe, or Zaxby’s, the personal act of sharing a dining experience brings comfort and familiarity even when it wasn’t present before.
As our deliberation continued, people also became better listeners ironically. Naturally, most would assume that when we eat and converse we become worse listeners because eating takes some of the attention away from the conversation. However, this did not happen; everyone listened intently to each person’s perspective.
What I saw that Friday in Vail Commons was an intentional, genuine conversation about a delicate matter such as mental health. It was an experience that was elevated by the act of eating lunch with other people. It really makes you ponder about how much our surroundings have on our mood and attitude toward speaking to people. Food has a positive impact on our interactions with one another. If we have more conversations where people are in comfortable settings, better and more productive deliberations will occur.