Living in Texas can be unbearably hot in the summer and turning on the stove only adds to the oppressive heat. Even cooking on the grill outside is a sweaty proposition in ninety-degree-plus evenings. This time of year my enthusiasm wilts for hosting group dinners. But, with September and cooler temperatures on the way, my passion for cooking is returning.
Over the years, I've noticed that if I’m a little cranky or blue, I always feel tremendously better when I start preparing food, especially for friends, and I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that the activities around cooking and entertaining had any effects on mood or emotion. And, it does!
British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, published fascinating research that shows “those who eat socially more often feel happier and are more satisfied with life, are more trusting of others, are more engaged with their local communities, and have more friends they can depend on for support.” (Breaking Bread: the Functions of Social Eating, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, January 2017) .
And, it’s not all about the food. “Laughter, singing, dancing and storytelling are all known to trigger the endorphin system, the main pharmacological factor underpinning social bonding in primates and humans. Alcohol is also a major trigger of the endorphin system.” (Dunbar 2017) And, all that endorphin triggering is increasing your immune system’s ability to fight off illness. All this togetherness is scientifically proven to be good for you.
Dunbar goes on to explain that mid-day meals don’t have the same effect on bonding as evening meals and that evening meals provide an extra sense of “magic”. Factual and functional conversation topics dominate the day-time meal whereas social topics predominate in the evening. Evolutionarily, evening meals were taken around a campfire after the work day was done. This freed up the day for foraging (trips to Central Market) and other essential activities (child care and jobs). (Dunbar 2017)
Over the next four weeks, I’ll be writing and posting a blog article every week to highlight my discoveries about cooking and communal eating, and I’ll give a few suggestions on how a beginner could plan and execute an easy dinner in their home for friends or family. For those of you who approach the idea of inviting friends over with the same wariness as sticking your hand on a hot stove burner, we will start with the easiest of easy, the bring-a-dish or pot luck dinner. See, not scary at all.
Time to stir up a little magic! Beginners: Make a list of several people you’d like to spend time with, perhaps someone you’d like to get to know better or someone who has had you over to their house recently. Also, pick people who will have something in common or who already know and like each other. We want this first adventure to be a success! Start out with no more than four to six guests including yourself. That’s it, just make the guest list. We’re going to take this in bite-size portions.
Next, take a deep breath and relax. In my entire several-decade history of entertaining, I cannot remember a single dinner party that went awry even if my food did (probably due to that laughter, dancing and alcohol thing).
Next week, we’ll dive a little deeper into the importance of communal eating, and we’ll take your easy dinner party to the next step.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me in the usual ways or post them on Thyme with Friends Group Page on Facebook (link below).
Until then, Bon Appetite!
Thyme with Friends Cookbook
Benefits the North Texas Food Bank
Where to order: www.thymewithfriends.org
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