THE English and Korean may have been campaigning against loneliness, depression and unhappiness which have been too prevalent among them. Americans also complain about not eating together as often as they used to (read this).
Here in Indonesia, we have our best cure to the aforementioned global pandemics: having meals together on every occasion. Yes, indeed eating together has been proven as an effective method to get rid of a sense of being all alone and forlorn.
As Wikipedia says, social eating tradition has its root back in the Ancient Greek age. People cooked and enjoyed foods and drinks to join a commemoration of a special moment or day.
In Ramadan (the fasting month in Islamic calendar), social eating in iftar time has been also a norm. Even those who are not muslims join dinner and chat together as it is a perfect time to interact over good foods. That shows just how much people can mingle with each other irrespective of their faiths, races, tehnic groups, and other differences.
But things are not as ideal when we see it in reality. That includes the case of social eating. Here is why.
Social eating is certainly good when it comes to restrengthening social connections. Science proves it (read here). Conversations among individuals at dining tables can alleviate someone’s chronic stress. Talking about recent experience or life events is even more relieving with friends face-to-face, instead of telling them via chat applications or social media.
Maintaining social ties over foods at dining table also lowers down the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Being in the middle of family members, friends and neighbors can be intimidating for some introverted folks but it turns out that it helps people slow down the brain aging process as well.
We all have been familiar with the bright sides of social eating. So how about the dark, undiscussed side of it?
As pointed out here, social eating can be bad as it potentially unleashes most people’s unhealthy eating habits. People are encouraged to swallow more foods and drinks which later causes overeating. I have seen a coworker who was taken to a nearby hospital days after Idul Fitri just because he lost himself during the festivity season. He ate almost everything he saw on the table.
Overeating also means people tend to consume more and more calories, leading to accumulation of body fats. This is ironic because you have meal together after you refrain yourself from eating anything for 13-14 hours in daylight in Ramadan. In Idul Fitri, the tendency of overeating is even higher. Suddenly you can eat anytime you want again and that is not an opportunity to get wasted so people binge-eating and find themselves clogged inside after eating like the greedies pig ever born.
Science also proves that social influences on eating are powerful. Eating together can affect someone’s body weight. So if you have a weight-related health conditions, eating together very often especially with people who are more ‘promiscuous’ will definitely bring you more issues than benefits.
What to heed
Now, what should be paid attention to when you want to eat together without having to endure its negative effects? Remaining mindful throughout social eating rituals is needed so that you won’t get yourself stuffed with junk foods or overload the intestines with foods in enormous portions.
When you are mindful, chances are you will eat more controllably. You are aware of making choices, which food to pick and to avoid. And of course, trying to limit that comfort food as least as possible because you know once you chew it, you cannot stop.
On that note, also never forget the essence of social eating, i.e. uniting. Some people are trapped in making more enemies than refreshing their stale friendships or relationships here. They bully each other, show off their latest posessions, which is at the end totally against the aim of social eating itself.
And what matters most is that you know that social eating should not get in the way of observing your religious responsibilities (read: your essential daily rituals). For muslims especially, what is the point of eating out at malls if you miss your maghrib prayer? (*/)