Many people identify in our culture a series of profound fractures, like destabilising fissures threatening the stability of parts of our society. There are numerous young people with no close positive role model, particularly that of a male. There are deep rifts where intergenerational relations are almost non-existent, politicians talk of a lack of respect and we are told there is an “epidemic” of anti-social behaviour. To put it at its gloomiest, there is dis – ease in parts of our culture, as though we had lost the art of living well and happily together across the generations. A series of tools can help us overcome these fractures that undermine our stability. One of the tools at our disposal is a table. The dining table has been described as a “convivial tool”.
Tables are places where people share “the produce of the earth and the fruit of human labour”. By learning to cook and serve good, nourishing food from fresh ingredients (not just from a packet), we learn appreciation of the sources of our food (and that matters if we take seriously our environmental responsibility, not to mention animal welfare). We learn about good nourishment and the art of celebration. The fellowship of the meal table is common to almost every culture across the globe, throughout time, until, it seems, this time. What makes modernity imagine that we have outgrown its value?
Tables are places where we hear each other’s stories, and are heard, in a richly nourishing atmosphere where people make time to be together. They are places where courtesies and manners are learned, skills for life that can be transferred into the workplace and the city. The table is where people have the potential to reconnect and unplug from the computer screen. They continue to play a profoundly important role in enabling us to live well together. The table has the potential to be the place where joy, enchantment and celebration can be reborn in lives that are often starved of laughter, warmth and meaningful companionship. It is where people can learn to be together, something we need to rediscover in a fractured world.