About Community Dining
“We do not and cannot always argue with our friends, even though we scorn the dictums of formal etiquette. But because we do not argue, it does not follow that we gain nothing. In fact, ordinary conversation has numerous advantages over debate, not the least of which is the comparative freedom it gives from prejudice.
But the value of conversation depends both on what we talk about and whom we talk with. Too much of our talk is on petty matters, is un-educative. And even if we converse on worthy topics, it will profit us little if we do not talk with worthy people. When we commune with a dull mind, our thoughts are forced, in some degree, down to the level of that mind. But dull people do not usually talk of weighty matters, nor do active intellects dwell long on trifles. Therefore if we rightly choose our companion we can conscientiously leave our path of conversation to choose itself.
One aspect of conversation remains to be treated — its corrective power. “There is a sort of mental exposure in talking to a companion; we drag our thoughts out of their hiding-places, naked as it were, and occasionally we are not a little startled at the exhibition. Unexpressed ideas are often carefully cherished until, placed before other eyes as well as our own, we see them as they really are.”Henry Hazlitt
When I first started Community Dining, I simply sought to bring people together to support restaurants and other venues that focus on sourcing from local and sustainable organic farms and provide a forum to share ideas about health, wellness, and nutrition. However, as the group has evolved, I have come to intuitively understand that spontaneous conversations taking place among a group of strangers united for a common purpose over a shared meal create an experience and mechanism for community engagement that transcend beyond the mere act of eating: an opportunity to stimulate curiosity, playfulness, and sociability that we naturally had as children (which psychologist and research professor Peter Gray cites as the three core aspects of human nature) as well as interactions with worthy companions who provide us the opportunity to forge integrated, heartfelt social bonds and aid in our development as self-directed human beings by giving our thoughts and ideas the mental exposure they need to grow.
These face-to-face connections now carry special significance because of the decline in community engagement described by political scientist and Harvard professor of public policy Robert Putnam:
This idea of bringing our whole selves may feel foreign given how many gatherings we attend whose purpose only applies to sharing the part of ourselves that people want from us, but true communities provide more sustainable long-term social nourishment than networks much like a nutrient-rich diet vs. one based on foods that simply provide a quick energy boost. I credit Gatto for his ability to clearly express what I never could: that so many people I have connected with over the years don’t meet the criteria of a true friend, and that many of these same people likely (and rightfully) view me the same way because we are all simply part of each others’ network, where we only share parts of ourselves for limited mutual gain while sacrificing deeper human contact that ultimately provides greater personal growth.
So when I bring up the concept of community dining and connecting with others through shared meals and substantive conversations and see the way people react, it seems like I’ve rediscovered an experience people need more of and that for this reason, the pervasiveness of networks lacking substance and promoting only thin human contact fail to provide true fulfillment. (For more information on this topic, feel free to check out my blog post “Communities vs. Networks”)
In summary, whether we express ourselves through regular social gatherings focusing on how we can optimally eat (i.e. vegan/vegetarian or paleo diet/lifestyle), the connection between food and medicine, deeper questions about life and spirituality, (i.e. the ethical treatment of animals, our treatment of the environment, how we can feed the world, etc…) important community issues and how to address community conflicts, or simply how we can better connect with each other in our own neighborhoods and meet new people, community dining makes it possible to further engage in the world around us.
– Paul Sippil