The Academy award nominated feature film ‘Julie and Julia’ is an example for the perfect juxtaposition for the love of French food between two women. One is an American woman who moves to France and her love for French food brings forth her desire to learn to cook. She goes on to becoming a household name i.e., Julia Child (fun fact: her husband, Paul Cushing Child was posted to then Ceylon as a US civil servant representing the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War). The other was a suburban New Yorker by the name of Julie Powell whose life we see through her love for comfort food and her undying desire to learn to cook through the legacy of Julia Child. Both exemplary women had one thing in common apart from the obvious: food. They both told a story of togetherness, battles, and persistence with the usual emotional journey they faced whilst chopping onions. The insight to their journey was seen through the conversations and the progress of their cooking, which faced trial at their dinner table.
In a time where human-human interaction is thinning in the digital era, such interactions are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. We base our opinions on the backdrop of the lack of sufficient constructive conversations and discussions. The dinner table is not merely just a four-legged piece of furniture that we gather around to have our last meal for the day. This particular meal offers us that space for conversation, to empathize and to be truly ‘woke’ about what is surrounding us.
After a long and stressful day, the one thing we can all go to home to is food. The food you take at dinner is a culmination of the day’s learnings and what seems effortless yet complex in taste, laid out in harmony on a table. From bread, string hoppers, koththu, roti, to even the feat of going straight to dessert by skipping the main meal, the conversations that we have over this meal is memorable and in the presence of certain intoxicating liquids: forgotten. Conversations may start with how well cooked the food is and unconsciously spiral to how high the price of salt happens to be, and in the case of Sri Lankan households we might end up with potential contenders for general elections. The intrinsic beauty of it lies in the little things that tends to have the greatest impact on us. Somewhere between the disagreements, complaints, insulting jokes, and criticisms we learn to tolerate, and we learn that amidst our differences in certain ways we are the same. There is more that unites us than divides us.
If you think about it, the notion of appreciation, the act of saying thank you, learning the road map of how this meal came about and finding solace after a long day takes place at this very table. From the harmonious crackling noise of cutlery and crockery to accidentally spilling food all over and getting scolded by our elders and even crying at the thought of being forced to eat boiled vegetables (for those of us who has had them shoved down our throats), dinner is a spiritual journey which shows us true values and in turn our own value.
In the present digitalized context, we’ve scheduled our days in such a way that there’s ample screen time and buzz, and our thoughts are scattered across content that people have already paved the road for us to see. We inherently limit our imagination and at times find ourselves comparing ourselves to something that is unattainable. As a result, we downplay our worth to fit a groove that was made by what surrounds us. It is not to say that the digital era is the personification of the devil itself, to this date it benefits us in many ways. However, the place it has in our lives has catapulted to cause a fair share of damage. The questions, the answers, the open ended conversations (including the ones where one person falls asleep while the other continues with their ‘Sermon on the Mont’) and merely being present, are all part of what makes us who we are. Assuming that this puzzle that is a human can do without some of the pieces is a gross mistake on our part. Those conversations which are sparked under the most random and normal of circumstances are the ones we need to cherish the most. It is safe to that dinner table memories coupled with arguments, disagreements, and philosophical roller coasters (e.g., Should Pineapple be on pizza) is the perfect recipe for societal progress. The ‘steaks’ for the need for such interactions couldn’t be higher.
The hidden power that is sewn into the last meal of the day is one that shouldn’t be undermined. The present pandemic hints at us the value we need to place on our lives and just how much we take for granted. Hence our interactions, thoughts and conversations is one that needs care, and the dinner table offers us that escape and ferments our chaos by transforming it into something whole. To quote Julia Child herself, “Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people.’ In other words, friendship is the most important thing—not career or housework, or one’s fatigue—and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”
– Rtr Shihara Ferdinando
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