Why We Eat Together

Human food rituals are unique to our species.

Woman eating
Harold M. Lambert / Getty

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For human beings, a meal is never just a meal, and a snack is never just a snack. As the writer and scientist Louise O. Fresco noted in The Atlantic in 2015, “Even where a lonely diner picks sweets out of a bag with bare fingers, a rudimentary ritual exists, a moment of pleasure, no matter how ambiguous or guilty.”

The rituals of our meals—gathering around a table, sharing food with people beyond our direct relatives—are unique to our species, and they make us human, Fresco explained. Food is intricately bound up in our relationships too; the word companion comes from cum panis, the Latin for “bread sharer.”

But the eating rituals that define our life are not constants. In 2015, Fresco lamented that technology was making people less likely to gather around the table with their loved ones; that trend has only persisted in the years since. Meanwhile, the pandemic has changed some of our cooking and eating habits.

Here is a reading list of essays on how we think about food and how we share it. I hope it reminds you of the joy that’s possible when you make time for the ritual of eating, whatever that might look like for you this week.


At the Table

An illustration of a stack of pancakes with a fork sticking out of it
Vasya Kolotusha

The 12 Most Unforgettable Descriptions of Food in Literature

By Adrienne LaFrance

Haruki Murakami’s stir-fry, Maurice Sendak’s chicken soup with rice—only the most gifted writers have made meals on the page worth remembering.

Woman eating
Harold M. Lambert / Getty

There’s No Real Reason to Eat 3 Meals a Day

By Amanda Mull

Just go ahead and do whatever feels right.

Family Portrait by Gillis van Tilborgh (Wikimedia)
Family Portrait by Gillis van Tilborgh (Wikimedia)

Why We Eat Together

By Louise O. Fresco

The human is the only animal species that surrounds its food with rituals.


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P.S.

Food can bring us together, but it can also divide us. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pieces of culinary writing from The Atlantic: Milk chocolate is better than dark, my colleague Megan Garber argued in 2016. (I’m Team Megan on this one.)

— Isabel