Food and Its Meaning in Social Settings

Food and Its Meaning in Social Settings

We love food as much as we need it. One could argue that food and eating is an essential part of the human experience. To ensure our survival, the physiological urge to eat must be satisfied every day. Also, our moods, feelings, and thoughts heavily depend on what, and how often, we consume food.

Apart from being the line between life and death, food is a social need. From an anthropological perspective, food is a gesture of “sharing, for distributing and giving, for the expression of altruism.”

At the most rudimentary level, food is an essential gift shared between a mother and her infant. In a bigger context, foods and drinks act as the glue that brings people together. Hunters would catch a wild beast and bring their haul into the village to share it with the dwellers. Today, people invite friends over a cup of coffee, meet business partners for lunch, or celebrate a romantic milestone over a bottle of champagne. From the biggest holidays and events, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays – to the most ordinary day, food is ever-present.

All of these have given food an indispensable role in social gatherings. It’s also become the reason that gastronomy is at the heart of tourism and restaurant franchises are some of the biggest drivers in the hospitality industry.

Let’s take a deeper look into the importance of food in social functions and the way it affects our ability to form relationships.

A Meal is an Opportunity to Make Connections

Perhaps we need to look at the basics of hospitality. Social events are ultimately about hospitality. The organizer – whoever that may be, whether it’s a private individual, a group, a corporation – is the host, and the attendees are the guests.

The concept of hospitality can be traced back to biblical times, when people would welcome friends and strangers into their homes to break bread. This shared meal would lead to shared ideas, shared experiences, and ultimately, connections. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the goal of modern social and networking events?

Any food service – from formal plated dinners down to the simplest continental breakfast – is a form of hospitality. And a meal is more than just a meal – it’s a chance to connect with others, and break bread.

Food is a Comfort Zone

Group of friends at restaurant outdoors

Attendees tend to stay with the group they know, especially at large events. Food stations and buffet tables can serve to break people away from their cliques and encourage interaction with a less familiar and newer audience. People may stay behind and talk about the shrimp, or which salad toppings work best with what type of lettuce.

Finger foods, on the other hand, offer an easy, natural excuse for conversation breaks, so strangers or newly formed acquaintances have a chance to escape awkward interactions.

Either way, each type of service gives the attendees confidence to hold spontaneous, in-depth conversations or, if the occasion calls for it, break away from them. In a way, food is a comfort zone of sorts.

Given how food affects the way socialize and form relationships, eating has long moved away from being a mere physiological function. And it will continue to do so for as long as we have a desire in our hearts to connect with our world.

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