The social life of food #3 | rituals that make life taste better

food quote

The social life of food is not just about when we eat food, where the food is from or who we eat it with – part of experiencing food is also the ritual of eating food. This can be traditional, like the ritual of praying before dinner. It can also be a ritual introduced by pop culture, like dunking your Oreo’s in milk. In Indonesia it is custom to serve spekkoek (a traditional cake made of many very thin layers) in very small slices and to eat it with small bites. This ritual is a sign of respect for the maker of the spekkoek  – the baker has taken lots of effort to make the spekkoek, so it should not be scarfed down.

Maintaining rituals surrounding food also have a (perhaps) unexpected effect – according to Psychological Science, people who had special rituals for their food consumption actually enjoyed their food more. By adding small rituals to the process of eating, the mind is focussed on eating and small details are noticed, and enjoyed, more.

What is your favourite food ritual?

image from here

The social life of food #2 | buying our daily bread

easy as pie

Grocery shopping is something you put on the ‘to-do’ list, not a part of your social calendar. However, that was not always the case. Markets, the place where food was bought and sold, were places of social interactions and a place where news was spread. Now, we don’t have to shop every few days because we are able to store food for longer periods of time. Our ‘daily bread’ can become our ‘monthly bread’ – if we store it in the freezer.

Carolyn Steel, author of The Hungry City,  identifies the moment we pay for our food at the cash register as the last direct link we have with those who produce our food. But on top of that, our exchange with the cashier may also be the only social moment left in our process of buying food. Large supermarkets are rarely located in central parts of town with ample parking space so that we can load in a week’s worth of groceries. Once in the supermarket, most marketers have agreed on the best layout: vegetables at the entrance, candy at the cash register, and the smell of baked bread present throughout the store.

If we want to re-create our relationship with food we also need to re-think the way we design our (super)markets. My suggestions:

Stimulate explorers

Imagine entering a market where you can taste a sample of bread while faintly smelling the smoked meat from the butcher department or citrus fruit from the produce section… by increasing the sensory stimulation consumers will be stimulated to try new things.

Increase in-house knowledge

A market used to have salesmen to explain what a product was and how it could be prepared. Increase the information available for consumers about how to prepare food so that they are challenged to try different things. Knowledgeable store staff can increase the sociability of the shopping experience.

Increase traceability

Allow consumers to question where the product comes from and be curious about their food.

image from here

The social life of food #1 | eating together

the fondest memories are made when gathered around the table

Anyone who’s watched Downton Abbey can attest to the idea that important conversations often seem to take place around the dinner table. Food, eating together – it’s not just about nourishment of the body, but also the soul. So what happens if we start seeing communal dining as a social strategy to talk about important issues? In particular, a setting to start talking about the subject literally closest at hand: food.

When we start talking about food, we quickly realize it’s a complicated issue. There are lots of trends and ideas about our relationship with food, health and sustainable food consumption. So before taking a nose-dive into the actual dinner conversation, it might be interesting to look at some communal dining events that have taken place or are taking place…


Eating together can be as simple as inviting over some friends. Or, in the case of neigbor, inviting some friends and asking them to invite some of their friends as well. Emily & Archie Lee Coates host a dinner party in their Brooklyn apartment once a month and anyone can sign up. Now they invite  +/- 20 guests in their apartment each month.They noticed that eating together and doing the dishes quickly created bonds and lasting friendships.

The big lunch

The big lunch was initiated by the Eden project in the UK as a way to tackle social isolation. What is it? Nomem est omen – it’s a big lunch event that’s organized in various places in the UK, open for everyone in a community.

Innocent 5 for 5

In 2012 the Innocent company launched a pop-up café as part of the promotion campaign for their new veg pots. For five pounds, visitors could enjoy a meal that incorporated the 5-a-day requirement for fruits and vegetables.

Click here for a video recap

Damn food waste

The damn food waste festival was organized in Amsterdam by different organizations and research institutions to increase awareness of the fact that a lot of food is thrown away – by producers, supermarkets and consumers. Visitors were invited to share a meal made of products that were still edible, but would ordinarily have been thrown away.


These examples give a sense that communal dining projects are already taking place at different scales, for different reasons and organized by different parties. When reading reviews of those who were there a striking similarity is that the visitors seem empowered by the atmosphere that was created by sharing a meal.