Reviving the Dinner Table

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

As a child growing up in a Mennonite home, I learned the importance of meal times as we gathered with our family - and often neighbors, friends or relatives – around a table every night on the farm. Lively conversations sprinkled with humorous storytelling kept time with the passing of bowls as we heaped our plates with food Mom and I had prepared.  After marriage and a family of my own, I carried on this tradition of gathering around the table.  Out of this culture of food and fellowship sprung spontaneous dinner parties with potluck-style meals served in beautiful dishes as we pulled up chairs - children and adults alike - to enjoy an evening of laughter in between mouthfuls of delicious food. Now, these evenings of warm dinnertime rituals have grown to include a widening circle of friends as we set up tables under trees, in backyards, around fireplaces and in dining rooms pursuing a simple culture of cooking great food and sharing it with those we love.

The smell of fresh bread permeates the room as a roast slowly cooks in the oven and a pot of potatoes bubbles on the stove.  A cherry pie cools on the counter, the dining room table is set and on the sideboard a spread of appetizers awaits hungry guests. Does this sound like a scene from your grandmother’s kitchen? It could be. Or it could be the home of a 20-something’s couple who, in this modern age of fast food and frenzied schedules, joins a swelling trend in reviving an older generation’s value of simple living. 

Appropriately called “The Slow Movement,” this cultural shift focuses on cooking with local and fresh foods while taking time to enjoy family and relationships around the dinner table. It emphasizes the importance of appreciating the present and offers a refreshing reprieve from the grind of life as we know it. From backyard cookouts to small apartment potlucks to gourmet dinners people are slowing down to experience life. While candles flicker, faces around the table are warmed by food and fellowship as china clinks, glasses are tipped and second helpings are passed in a setting that promotes community, builds friendships and nurtures families.

While Europeans have long placed an emphasis on slowly cooked meals and drawn-out dinners the reviving trend in American homes of gathering around the table has been sparked by movements such as Kinfolk, an independent lifestyle magazine founded in 2011 by Portland based editor, Nathan Williams, featuring the art of slow living.  Kinfolk’s monthly dinner parties and workshops have been hosted in multiple cities around the world since 2012 inspiring creative professionals to simplify and beautify their lives while cultivating the value of time spent with friends and family.

Also on the table scene is Sunday Suppers, a food and design community based in Brooklyn. Their popular food blog and subsequent cookbook of market-inspired meals and stunning photography has been vital in reviving the art of home cooking and has modeled the beauty of sharing simple food around a communal table.

In The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings, Nathan Williams states, “Entertaining looks different for each of us, but as long as we’re cooking and inviting people into our homes with a genuine interest in connecting, conversing and eating together, then the way we do these things will ultimately come naturally.  A burned dish or a missing serving piece becomes trivial. The humble soup or homely bread becomes a feast.”   Whether we host a spread reminiscent of grandmother’s style or choose the laid-back approach of a buffet, the rewards of inviting friends for dinner are many. With well-planned effort and a dose of creativity we can cultivate relationships as we ease into a slower pace and gather around our tables to share life.  

By Naomi Gingerich, featured in the May issue of Winston-Salem Monthly Magazine
                                                                    Copyright 2015

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