Aliza Wong is an assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University. She lives in Lubbock, Texas, with her son and husband, but hails from Portland, Oregon.
When one of the former chairs of our department left us for greener pastures elsewhere, he sent us an email bidding his farewell. In it, he thanked the faculty for their work, he wished us well, and he gave us, as colleagues, only one piece of advice. The last line of his letter to us read: “Eat lunch together more often.”
Simple. Direct. To the point. And I have not been able to erase it from my mind since.
Eat lunch together more often. Seems such a basic directive. Too reductive. Trite even. And yet . . . Eat lunch together more often. What if it really were possible? What if it really were that simple? What if in the humble act of breaking bread together, in sharing a meal together, in sitting down and taking the time to eat together — what if in that most natural coming together, we truly did come together? If we took a breath together? If we shared a common repast? A common past. A common future. Eat lunch together more often.
We are so busy as a people, a culture. We eat at our desks, we email while chewing, we call other people even while we are at lunch with our friends. We need to be doing two, no three, no four things at a time, multitasking, juggling, performing. What happened to our moment of pause? Of reflection?
I want to count the number of times I chew my food so I can make my grandmother proud. I want to feel the crunch of the salt, the ages of the waves of the sea that brought it to shore. I want to savor the centuries of history, of adventure, of travel that brought people together through tastes, through texture, through spice.
In some way, the people of the world — east, west, north, and south — were brought together to eat together. Perhaps at lunch counters, dinner tables, pillowed floors, blanketed earth half a world away, but we were brought together by a common desire to be aware of one another. And for many years, many centuries, that awareness came through food.
We ate together by sharing salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, saffron, tea. We ate new world and old world together in pasta with tomato sauce, polenta with farm-fresh cheeses. And even separated by culture, technology, language, history, we were connected by Silk Roads and trade routes, railways and shipping maps. We were connected by the desire to eat lunch together more often, even when lunch together was lunch apart.
We learned about one another. Sometimes we liked what we saw, sometimes we were scared of it, sometimes we didn’t quite know what to make of it. And that was OK. At times it was violent. At times it led to strife. And sometimes it allowed great relationships, great friendships to flourish. Or at least a curiosity to be explored. Seated cross-legged at a table, or on a tatami, or across a conference table with a sandwich and some sweet tea — can we afford to let that spirit of adventure and exploration die out with our modern world?
Perhaps we think we have surveyed every corner of the earth, every food culture, every trade route — but have we encountered the person seated next to us, across from us? Eat lunch together more often. Let this be a new age of discovery.
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