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December 20, 2008

To make a community, sometimes you have to break a few loaves of bread
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:58 AM * 137 comments

One of the great pleasures of my job is that the entire office eats together. We get bread, cheese, milk, sauces, spreads, and meat delivered to the office, and every lunchtime we sit down around the table for sandwiches.

Eteoneus carved the meat and gave them each their portions, while Megapenthes poured out the wine. Then they laid their hands upon the good things that were before them
— The Odyssey, Book XV, translated by Samuel Butler

I love watching each of my colleagues sit down and start lunch. First comes benediction: Eet smakelijk*. Then, after pouring milk (or buttermilk; we have two or three karnemelk drinkers in the office), diners always seem to pause, looking over the table, hands held expressively†. Then they reach for the bread and the fillings, and make the most astonishing variety of sandwiches.

Dutch sandwich eaters seem to be divided into two groups: the open face knife and fork clade and the closed and picked up set. Loyalty is absolute and immutable; there are no switchers. The knife and fork people each have their own habits of cutting, executed with the precision of thoughtless habit.

I’ve always enjoyed this time, all the way back to the first meal I shared with them, on the day of my final interview with the company. I may have convinced management to hire me in the conference room, but they persuaded me to take the job at the lunch table.

They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal.
— Pliny the Younger, letter XCVII, translated by William Melmoth

The fact that my fondness for my colleagues finds expression at the lunch table is no coincidence. Very few activities build a community more effectively than eating together. I remember when one guy started going out to the local sandwich shop for lunch (there is only one nearby). It wasn’t a surprise when he quit; he had already moved out, in some deep emotional fashion.

Heaven and Hell are both banquets where each diner’s spoon is longer than his arm. In Hell they try to feed themselves, and starve. In Heaven they feed each other.
— Old story, much retold

Even more powerful than eating together, though, is feeding one another. Again, my work is a good example: we take turns laying the table according to a weekly rota. I have had many a bad day saved by taking the time to set out the food.

Think on these things in this season of communal meals. With whom will you be breaking bread this winter? How will it go? Which relationships will you strengthen, and which can you simply relax and enjoy? (And which, of course, will you glide through as lightly as possible? Because, you know, sometimes the best you can do is to minimize the damage.)

* Best translated into French Anglophone idiom as bon appetit

† I find hands, and the ways that people use them, as varied and delightful as faces. One person will wiggle his fingers as he plans his first sandwich, while another may stroke her fingernails with her thumb as she considers which cheese to choose. The guy who rubs his hands together as he thinks makes me smile; the one with the vulpine nails bemuses me.

Comments on To make a community, sometimes you have to break a few loaves of bread:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:07 PM:

I look forward to breaking bread with members of this community, which has been food for the spirit for so long.

#2 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Last weekend, I and some friends went away to a country cottage to celebrate Milton's birthday by reading Paradise Lost together. We all arrived at various times on Friday evening, in the cold and dark, and I cooked for everyone - French-style winter(ish) vegetable stew, strong and hearty and filling. It's only recently I've started cooking for large numbers (ten this time, twenty-two the time before) but I'm finding something remarkably satisfying about it, especially being able to go straight into the kitchen (well, as soon as my ingredients arrive too) and make sure we're all well fed.

Also, 'smakelijk' is a wonderful word, and I want to translate it 'mindfully'.

#3 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:31 PM:

abi, that is absolutely wonderful. Someday I'll work in a place where people break bread together.

It will be family this season. I'm lucky to have a family where eating together is soul-feeding.

xeger, it is one of my desires in life to meet and break bread with the people here. It hasn't happened so far. Someday I hope it will.

#4 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:44 PM:

This past Thanksgiving, I hosted the family dinner for the first time. (It's a long story. My mother called my bluff. 'Nuff said.) It was so psychologically interesting. My elderly grandmother has always hosted Thanksgiving, and there was definitely a sense of a mantel being passed. I'm the family's black sheep/wild child (mid-thirties, still single, Bohemian profession), and I had a sense that me putting together the meal was also me saying, "Look, despite being unconventional, I'm still a functional human being who can pull my weight in the community."

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Smakelijk, smæcclice!

As in:

þys is efne to secgenne

Ic æt
þa pluman
þe wæron

þære iscieste
and þe
þu eallmæst cuþice
for morgenmete

Forgief me
hie wæron smæcclice
swa swete
and swa cealde

They're very nearly the same word.

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:53 PM:

The Dutch are the people who make the best use of lawyers; they drink them.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 12:58 PM:

Fragano: leaving them in a state of advocaacy?

#8 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:03 PM:

Several regulars here will be at the New Year's Day party I'm planning to attend in the Bay Area. There's always excellent food there. And it's become pretty traditional.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:06 PM:

TNH #7: A bit too much and they go advocraazy.

#10 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:15 PM:

I remember with pleasure many meals with Dutch colleagues. In one canteen, slices of cheese or ham came in plastic packets which were quite difficult to pull apart, so scissors were provided on the tables. The group would sit down at the table and there would be a gracious little ritual of offering and passing the scissors.

#11 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Way back when my daughter was tiny, and her little brother was a glint in my eye, I used to make bread.

In between times, I came down with a bad case of RSI, and kneading dough (although not needing dough) was a physical impossibility.

Fast forward to recently, when we moved to a larger place and found a simple bread machine.

It's not a patch on the local artisanal breadmaker ( - we're in HK, not JP, but if you're in HK and fancy real bread, go to Donq in the basement of the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay.) I dream, that one day, when I have moved to my secret lair, with the lava equipped kitchens, I will be able to bake bread like that.

Meanwhile, the bread I manage to make with a simple bread machine is devoured by my family, while it's hot and fresh. It is a simple recipe, but it works, and it's an amazing feeling to have people get excited when you cook what should be basic food item.

#12 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:29 PM:

One of the joys of spending Christmas week with my family is our habit/ritual of pairing off to eat lunch out with each member of the family in turn. Catching up on a year's worth of conversation in combination with a good meal.

We also have the family dinners and breakfasts, but the pairing off is important.

#13 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 01:51 PM:

One thing I noticed about the Odeyssey when reading it in high school was that the size of the animal being slaughtered was proportional to the number of people who were coming to dinner, as it would have to be in the days before refrigeration.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:14 PM:

My current employer offers a substantial quantity (and quality) of free food as one of its many benefits. The justification is that it increases the sense of community among employees. I'm not sure how well it works with a larger company, but we're not complaining :).

#15 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:25 PM:

odaiwai @11: I too have moved over to the bread machine as a way around RSI's impact on the ability to knead dough, and am pleased by the simple pleasure a freshly baked loaf brings to a dinner. Alas, my bread machine remained in the land of 110V when we moved back to the UK, and I have not yet obtained a replacement.

#16 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:29 PM:

(Note: the Lee at #14 is not me.)

I appreciate the ritual of communal food the more for having seen it abused. One of the companies I contracted for before moving to Houston was one of those places that made a Big Deal out of "the company is one big, happy family". Holiday buffets for the office were mandatory-attendance, and everyone was required to join hands in a giant prayer circle beforehand. Yet this company had a number of personnel policies that I considered more than a little exploitative, and I always had the feeling that the "family" thing was largely a way to manipulate the employees into putting up with that. I have never been so happy to come to the end of a contract as I was with that one.

#17 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:37 PM:

#11 odaiwai, my mother bakes bread, too. When I was younger, she used to make it for our church (~30-40 people) weekly or so, and by hand. Now, she uses a bread machine and bakes it just for my dad and whatever kids are around (three, at the moment); it is, as you said, devoured with great glee. She likes to experiment with different recipes, usually various whole grains, but even her plain wheat bread is terribly tasty fresh from the oven.

For the last few years I've had a tradition of going to lunch on Sundays after church with a couple of people I met in my confirmation class; at the moment, it's down to one other person and we don't always have the money to spend at a restaurant. I miss it. But we had some wonderful times.

When I was in Boulder back in September, I got a chance to meet Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, and spent five or six evenings in coffee shops with her and friends. Very, very warm memories. I hope to do it again sometime. :)

#18 ::: chucktaylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 02:42 PM:

food is an integral part of my life and my culture, sitting down at the table to break bread, twirl pasta and consume wine is what i've known since birth, every memory of my grandparents is tinged with the smell of tomato sauce, garlic, onion and yes, cigarette smoke and beer

#19 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 03:01 PM:

The observation has become something of a commonplace that one of the things which preserves the separation of the community of observant Jews, while also binding the community itself, is kashruth, the dietary regulations which make it effectively impossible for a Jew to eat with a gentile.
It's also been said that the archetype of the Jewish holiday is, "They tried to kill us all. They failed. Let's eat."

#20 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 03:03 PM:

In any job or school situation, my closest relationships are with the people with whom I go to lunch.

I'm convinced that eating a meal together is the only way to convince the caveman parts of my brain that the other person is part of the "tribe" (that is, the group of people who can be trusted around my resources). Look, caveman brain! The new caveman doesn't steal food. Now put the club down!

#21 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 03:28 PM:

Neil in Chicago: Yes -- my brother and I used to laugh about how every holiday in the Jewish calendar marked some horrible occasion (there are a few exceptions). I was discussing this with my partner the other night, as we were talking about whether we should observe Hannukah and Christmas this year (they overlap) or just one. I reminded her that Hannukah isn't really a gift-giving holiday, but a feast in remembrance of a battle and subsequent memorial service (the oil that burned for eight days).

My partner is Methodist, and is the chairperson of the Evangelism Committee. One of the things she's successfully instituted has been a monthly potluck luncheon held immediately after services end. Everyone loves having a reason to stay and eat, and talk, and so on. They keep telling me* how much they like it, and how grateful they are to her. She also belongs to both the chancel choir and the bell choir, which have monthly and quarterly lunches or dinners.

When she was first invited to these meals, she wasn't sure if I was included, so she attended alone, and developed friendships with the rest of the choir. Then they realized I go with her, and started inviting me too.

(*As a secular Jew, I am not religious, but I do play in the church bell choir and occasionally attend the potlucks, and even less occasionally I attend services without playing.)

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 03:32 PM:

Andrew T @20:

In any job or school situation, my closest relationships are with the people with whom I go to lunch.

In my old job (big corporate), the social power was in coffee relationships. Knowing who went across the road to Caffeine with whom was much more useful than understanding the organization chart.

And even within my small company, food matters. I was having a terrible day last week. I had my headphones in in the hopes that music would help, but I was still scowling at my computer when I felt a touch on my shoulder. It was one of my colleagues with a cookie. "You looked like you could use one," he said, and handed it to me.

Made my whole day.

#23 ::: Bether ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 03:53 PM:

For the last four years, my social circle has been coming together every Monday evening to eat a meal and read aloud. Initially the focus was on the reading, then the food was added, and slowly other rituals have accumulated, including announcements of upcoming events. About twelve people participate on any given week, although the group is more than twice that large.

This event, I firmly believe, is primarily responsible for the closeness of our community, which is remarkable. Few of my peers seem to have close, supportive friend groups of this nature, although they do have friends. Some of the people in the group have moved to Portland from elsewhere to participate in the kind of closeness and community that we've achieved.

Regardless of the bragging I could do on my friends (they really are wonderful people), the simple act of sitting down to eat with the same(ish) folks on a regular basis is an anchoring, comforting, secure act.

#24 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Abi, I had the same experience a couple weeks ago. I'd been feeling down for a while, and one way that one of my friends reacted was to put three bits of candy, two chocolate squares and a Kit Kat, on the piece of scratch paper in front of my keyboard, with a big goofy grin coming out of the Kit Kat so it looked like a smiley face.

I only ate the last of it yesterday.

#25 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Andrew T #20:

Yes, now that you mention it, I think you're right. Meals, coffee, doughnuts, all somehow signal to us, at a level below rational thought or language, that we're all in the same tribe. That doesn't prevent nastiness entirely (there are often hierarchies in tribes, and the folks on top often f--k over the folks on bottom), but it somehow softens it, and makes the group feel like something more than just a collection of economic units sitting around in rented office space.

The way the Eucharist is treated in Catholicism always seems to me like it would make more sense, if it were still an actual meal. The ritual importance and the religious/theological importance don't track with the visceral impact of sitting down at a table with members of your commuinty. Potluck dinners, "pizza nights," even the coffee and doughnuts after Mass seem like they're important for that reason.

And that makes me realize that I tend to bail out on that sort of thing. I'm usually pressed for time, and "nonessential" stuff like potluck dinners at church, post-Mass doughnuts at Spanish Mass (where I'm self-conscious of both my language skills and also of the fact that I stand out like a big Anglo sore thumb), and similar stuff at work are all very easy to treat as not being all that important. After all, whether I come to the office picnic doesn't appear on my performance review, or my publication list.

It's easy to forget that those informal, "nonessential" connections are the ones that make up most of the really important parts of your life. They build up your friendships, your sense of community and belonging, your willingness to put yourself out for other people. That's something I'm going to have to remind myself of.

#26 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:07 PM:

Neil in Chicago @ 19
I always joke to my (non-Jewish) husband that it's the "Jewish mother" in me getting out (we don't have children) when I keep trying to feed any guests. And the link of Jewish holidays with food, and with particular types of food, is very strong.

Ginger @ 21 In my early years (to age 10) I went to Jewish schools. I have very clear memories of Chanukah at school. We made our little Chanukiyahs out of cardboard and bottletops covered with silver foil (no doubt now banned as a possible fire risk) and we all got "Chanukah gelt" - a little bag of foil-covered chocolat coins, and two bright shiny pennies. Then the charity box came round and we each put one of the pennies in the box. That made a lasting impression on me - giving as well as receiving.

I don't think children getting large Chanukah presents now (exactly as their Christian friends get Christmas presents) get the same message.

#27 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:13 PM:

My coven's Winter Solstice ritual is tonight, with a reprise tomorrow morning when the Sun comes up.

I've baked three kinds of cookies, and made a pot of califlower stew to take. Plus I'll be making a quiche for tomorrow.

A big part of our celebrations are sharing food, usually as potlucks. (Half the coven grew up Jewish so maybe it's the influence Neil @19 referred to.) Tonight, the first food on the menu is a ritual First Food. It's call "kutya", a Russian dish of whole grains and seeds cooked together. We honor it as an old method of preparing whole grains, before we knew how to grind them and make them into anything else.

The meal will end with a plum pudding.

#28 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:40 PM:

Before checking in here, I put two dozen cranberry muffins in the oven, to bring to work. It's going to be utterly dead there on Monday, but there should be enough folks still around to get together a noshing minyan.

For Christmas I'm heading back East. Christmas eve meal with my parents and some older relatives; Christmas day at my sister's. Hopefully, a good diner meal on Long Island with college friends.

There used to be an extended family get-together on Christmas, but the younger folk got too dispersed. They were potlucks of a sort, with extraordinary stuff like home-made ravioli or gnocchi.

#29 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:48 PM:

Oddly enough, I was thinking about baking bread this weekend. I don't do it often now, but I used to have a custom of baking in the morning on Sundays when I had to work to share with whomever else had drawn Sunday duty.

I fell away from that due to time constraints and lack of a bread machine (I live alone and I like kneading, so I can't see the point), but I've got time this weekend and it might be fun to restart the custom of sharing it with my coworkers.

#30 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:50 PM:

albatross, one of the things that happened around the same time as I started feeling more distant from my church was that the church moved. For a year Mass was held in a disused warehouse, and there was no parish hall or gathering space. After that, an "upscale" new sanctuary and parish hall were built -- and the new parish hall came with a chef and catering staff, and potlucks were summarily disallowed. If you wanted to have an event with food, you had to pay for catering and service.

It certainly wasn't the only reason, or even the biggest reason, that my relationship with Catholicism changed. (The move also happened just as I entered high school, when lots of one's thinking changes.) But it was part of it. Before the move, my family had been active and involved with a large group of families who had potluck dinners and small group religion discussions in the parish hall every Friday night. After the move, that group couldn't afford to pay for catering every week, or even every month -- it would have been prohibitively expensive, on the order of paying for a wedding reception.

In many ways that connection -- literally sharing our food, feeding each other -- was the heart of the church to me. It was kind of a realization of the Eucharist. When that was lost, church became much more isolating and separating.

#31 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 04:52 PM:

dcb@ 26: yes, the link of holiday and food is strong, particularly when I think of my grandmother (and her sisters, and their children, and now the next generation). Our holidays were supposed to be more about reconnecting with each other, over feasts with specific foods. Hannukah is latkes (which I can no longer eat, which is truly saddening); Passover is matzo ball soup (or matzohs in general); Purim is hamantashen, and so on.

(Our son has a lot of relatives, so each holiday (Easter, Christmas, birthday, etc.) is accompanied by lots of gifts. I think we should have him take some of those gifts and donate them to other kids who haven't got such large families, or whose families cannot afford gifts, particularly this year.)

I grew up with the Hannukah gelt and the immediate donations as well, to the orange UNICEF box. Gelt was a small part of the feasting and family; it was only later on that my parents expanded our Christmas gifts to Hannukah -- we didn't get more presents, we just got them spread out over a longer period of time. Every kid's dream, as you know Bob, is to get more socks, underwear and clothing for Christmas and Hannukah.

#32 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:02 PM:

My husband has worked for the same company for over 20 years. When he first started there, the company provided a "second breakfast" around 9:30 or so. A lady came with a trolley of soft pretzels, sandwiches, pastries. That was one of the first amenities to be cut, and my husband is sure that the reduction in morale was in no way worth the monetary savings. That was not the only cut, of course, but highly symbolic.

In my own erratic working history, I have been fortunate in being able to have lunch fairly frequently with my kids. It's not served at school, so when they come home around 2 they're starved. They're also generally cheerful and talkative. Mornings we're all snarling trolls, and togetherness is Not a Good Idea, but lunchtime is a good time for us to connect.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:02 PM:

For the first time in years, we're not going to my in-laws' for the holidays. Instead, my mother has come over from California, and we're having a family Christmas in the new house. Then, probably on Boxing Day, we're going to get together with the American family in the village. We have a big table, bought specifically for dinner parties.

My better half is a gifted cook, and has begun planning menus. We have a very good corn-fed chicken from the local game butcher, which will go nicely with winter roast vegetables. He's got some tasty-sounding plans for a marmalade Christmas pudding.

#34 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Meanwhile, the bread I manage to make with a simple bread machine is devoured by my family, while it's hot and fresh.

We've got two bread shops in town, one English, one French, both of which have excellent bread. Nevertheless, making my own and serving it very fresh will please people just as much*.

Every now and then guests say they feel guilty about coming to a dinner party as they haven't invited me back, and I've always had trouble explaining why that's not the point. I'll be borrowing some of the ideas from this thread next time.

* Experiments were not double blind.

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Muffins done.

A remarkably easy production. I should have thought to bake them fresh on Monday morning.

I just ate one with some strawberry jam. Playing in the other monitor is an episode of The Box of Delights. Life is good.

#36 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Ginger @31 --

If it's his stuff (an actual gift) he gets to decide what to do with it.

If it's not his stuff, it should not be represented to him as such.

If the diverse relatives won't pitch a fit over direct donation is something that it's very probably good to determine ahead of time. (I know I'd be a mite peeved if I'd put thought and effort into getting something specific for the kid and it'd been passed past the kid, no matter how worthy the general cause.)

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:29 PM:

abi #33:

We're in a somewhat similar position. This is our first holiday season (Thanksgiving-Christmas) in the new house, and we've also invited family here (my mom for Thanksgiving, my dad for Christmas) instead of traveling. I don't think we've *ever* done this for both holidays before. This is stressful in many ways (we basically had to finish our unpacking in order to get ready for my mom to get here), but it's also an opportunity to get to provide the stable home and holiday for the rest of our family.

This is a wonderful thread you've started here. Something about it makes me feel like I'm sitting around the fire with friends, and at the same time, it's reminding me of both the ways I get that sense of community, and the ways I run away from it.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:39 PM:

Best translated into French Anglophone idiom as bon appetit...

Why the strikeout, Abi? Was that a preemptive gesture against nitpicky Francophones who shall remain nameless? As for with whom bread will be broken... On Christmas, it'll be with my in-laws, and also tomorrow, on the occasion of my wife's 50th birthday. Tonight, it'll be with a few Fluorospherians, but some had to cancel, alas.

#39 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Ginger @ #31, Graydon @ #38:

The hippotherapy facility I work at operates on a shoestring, and money for anything beyond the bare necessities is rare. A child who takes regular riding lessons with us (i.e., not a patient) asked the guests invited to her birthday party to bring monetary donations to the facility in lieu of presents. They raised a nice amount of money for us, which will buy sorely needed tack for our ponies (we have a good supply of tack for the horses, but the ponies have to share). This pleased the child, the guests, and everyone at the facility--but it was crucial that (a) it was her decision and (b) it was announced in advance, thus avoiding hurting anyone's feelings.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Serge @38:

Actually, I was making a snarky point that you can't translate "eet smakelijk" into a neat English phrase, because we've stolen our only expression of the idea from French.

Note that "tot ziens" (the usual "goodbye") is similar; it is most closely translated as "hasta la vista".

I'm sorry that some attendees of tonight's get together had to cancel; yet another reason to toast absent friends with those who do make it.

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:31 PM:

albatross @37:
This is a wonderful thread you've started here. Something about it makes me feel like I'm sitting around the fire with friends, and at the same time, it's reminding me of both the ways I get that sense of community, and the ways I run away from it.

I think that many of us struggle, from time to time, to find the right balance between community involvement and all of the other pressures on our time and our peace.

Nor is eating together the only way to build community, as we here can attest. I've never broken bread with you, nor even with anyone who's broken bread with you (that I know of), yet here we are around the fire. Have some popcorn and hot apple juice with cinnamon sticks and cloves.

I guess what I'm trying to say, without presuming to know your innermost thoughts or the background to your comment, is that you seem to me to be doing pretty well at community membership. If this thread provides an axis of meditation for you, I'm glad to have provided it. If you use it to beat yourself up, to compare yourself to some abstract standard that you feel you don't meet...well, I suppose it's your choice, but I don't see much grounds for it.

#42 ::: flowery tops ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:38 PM:

odaiwai, and the other bread bakers:

I use the bread machine a lot if I'm not bothered by the appearance (otherwise either the machine or I looks after the kneading and rising, and I braid it into a loaf and bake in the actual oven), because for the most part I care about the ingredients, not who provided the muscle. Also, the machine makes a "bgrr! bgrr!" noise when it mixes that makes the dog bark, which makes me smile. We all love the bread I make, which also makes me smile!

At midwinter celebrations I make a loaf of something I think I got out of a Moosewood book, with dried fruits and saffron, it is very good.

Right this moment, I have some dough for English muffins rising downstairs.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:51 PM:

Meals together are a good way to keep a community active, not matter how it's constituted. I have a group of friends and former colleagues (and their friends and colleagues and former colleagues) who meet about once a month for lunch, and about once every 3 or 4 months for a Friday evening beer and light dinner at a local pub. Having those meals together has helped keep those friendships going where they otherwise might just dry up and blow away; I've known some of those people for 25 years now, and I'd regret that.

Unfortunately, the latest snowstorm started up yesterday afternoon, before much of the previous one had been cleaned up, and the group that had planned to go out for beer and dinner all bailed due to bad roads*. I've been missing a lot of the lunches for the last couple of years because of the location of my (now former) job, so I'm sad about that, but happy that I'll be more of a regular at the lunches.

* For a couple of them, that meant wait 4 hours for the tow truck to haul off the car that's blocking the only road that goes from their house to the outside world.

#44 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:55 PM:

It seems to me that bringing your own food to a big tribe-meal in while everyone else eats the same thing* is almost as othering as not joining at all.

The idea of eating as (one kind of) tribe-making is obvious but something that I hadn't consciously considered. I am glad to have it brought to my attention so that I can deal with it more clearly. Thanks, all!

*If they're eating pizza and you bring something different, for instance.

#45 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 06:57 PM:

Looking back on it, one of the symptoms of my depression worsening to a degree that allowed it to be diagnosed was my desire to eat alone at work. It was a small manufacturing business, and we ate together at the same table. I developed a sudden inability to pretend that I was not desperately miserable, to the degree that I preferred to eat alone in my car to avoid having to try.

I'm a bit surprised now that this bizarre behavior didn't encourage me to get help, but that finally came nearly nine months later, in a completely different form.

More happily, one of my favorite jobs so far had just one immediate co-worker, and we took turns providing lunches for the week. Mondays we'd go to the grocery store and buy the food for the week - deli sliced meat and cheese, crusty bread*, salad makings, or perhaps canned soup when it was cold. It was really simple food but I've never eaten better lunches.

*This was before I figured out that it was gluten intolerance causing my depression, but after I was diagnosed as depressed and was making progress at relieving it.

#22, abi -

Knowing who went across the road to Caffeine with whom was much more useful than understanding the organization chart.

That's the loveliest verbing of a noun I've seen. *tucks it away for the future*

#46 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 07:00 PM:

I am waiting for the butter to soften so that I can get a start on cookies for the office party. Two Christmases ago my sister gave me dinosaur cookie cutters, so I'll be making dinosaur cookies with orange glaze and M&Ms for the eyes; I will go, "Hee, dinosaur sodomy," and my roommate will think I'm weird. I am so bad at navigating office politics--having walked in on two coworkers discussing my general laziness and incompetence just last month--but I can do this; I can make cookies.

#47 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 07:08 PM:

RM Koske @45:
That's the loveliest verbing of a noun I've seen. *tucks it away for the future*

You do me an undeserved honor. Caffeine was the name of a cafe across the road from our building. I got more useful business done in 10 minutes there than I did the rest of the day, sometimes. But it was also the place that my colleague told me about the breast cancer that later killed her.

It does make a nice usage, looking at it afresh. *tucks it away*

#48 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 07:53 PM:

I noticed just this week, and thought it strange, that when my department and another closely-connected one had a group lunch, everyone appeared to be getting along and enjoying themselves--but the minute lunch was over, the atmosphere went back to being just as toxic as it was beforehand. That happened the last couple of times we had a department lunch, too, now that I think about it. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that this was the week I finally decided to get out. Though what I'll do next, I've no idea; I just know that the last couple of years in this job have completely turned me off of the idea of doing anything with libraries aside from borrowing books, just by association.) Even more interesting, at the company-wide holiday lunch yesterday we were all scattered over the room, whereas in the past my department had mostly clustered together at such events. We'd be joined by people from other parts of the company, of course, but we did stay in the same vicinity. I guess having a new manager whose admitted goal when coming into the department was to do whatever it took to get rid of everyone already in it will do that.

When I take food in for my colleagues, it's almost always because I've discovered that for some reason I love to bake, even though I loathe cooking, and I can't eat an entire batch of cookies or cinnamon rolls or whatever by myself. (Incidentally, Xopher's Black Hole Brownies of Death have been a huge hit each time I've made them.) The bread, OTOH...all mine.

As for what I'll be doing over the holidays...spending the week alone, which I desperately need. Probably not going to make latkes, much as I love them, simply because my cast iron skillets both need reseasoning and I'm probably not going to get around to doing it. And ever since college, my traditional food on Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is leftover Chinese takeout from the night before.

#49 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:06 PM:

One of my favorite "corporate culture" job interview questions is "So, what do you do for lunch around here?"

#50 ::: Laughingrat ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:08 PM:

Nothing particularly deep to say--just that this was the nicest thing I've read in a while.

#51 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:13 PM:

There's a group of fannish friends here who get together regularly for a late lunch on Sunday afternoons. Attendance is variable -- I've seen it be as few as two and as many as a dozen -- but I really try to be there any time that I'm not on the road. Quite aside from all the things we've been discussing in this thread, I consider it important to the health of my relationship with my partner that I have a few regular or semi-regular social activities that don't (normally) include him. It keeps us from living in each others' pockets until we drive each other crazy.

Lila, #39: "Hippotherapy" threw me for a loop until you mentioned riding lessons. Then the connection to Eohippus became obvious.

#52 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Lee @ #51, This is the Internet. Lila could be a neighbor to the great grey greasy Limpopo, where riding hippos might be quite the normal.

#53 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:44 PM:

Lee & Linkmeister, this is the real thing and this is a picture my daughter drew for me that I am one day going to put on a t-shirt.

#54 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:50 PM:

Lila, I love that t-shirt. I wish I knew some hippotherapists to give it to.

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Whenever I think of hippotherapy, I expect it to somehow involve the books of Sandra Boynton. (Both of my boys have loved her books, though my older son is now reading more complicated stuff, including that story on the banks of the great, greasy Limpopo, all set about with fever trees. I imagine our expected-in-February daughter will get some joy from them, as well.)

#56 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 09:05 PM:

This thread is a confluence of my day. I picked up a cookbook that talks about reclaiming the kitchen as sacred space. I also had a long conversation today about the importance of food and community.For me, the making of bread is meditative and deeply spiritual, and I will probably bake the dawn in, the fire I keep the one in my oven (gas is my friend!). I probably should go get more flour now, before the stores close. The bread will probably go to church tomorrow, and out for Christmas presents this week.

The ritual of bread and salt as welcoming and declaration is important to my concept of hospitality. I think it is telling that I've not offered it to anyone who has eaten with me in the house I have lived in for the past 2 months and which has now sold - it was never really my home and I haven't felt like I could offer the permanence the bread-and-salt implies. I need to remember that when I move into my new home next month. There are many who will help me move who deserve that acknowledgment of my house.

#57 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 09:41 PM:

One of the things I love about my workplace is the food traditions. We have a monthly birthday potluck which usually starts out really lightweight in the fall but gets fairly intense and heavy in the winter. I've learned several good recipes from this place and I've rediscovered the joy of the crockpot.

Once in a while someone gets up the urge (again, usually in winter) to bake and brings the extras to work to share (because most of us are older and don't have that many kids at home, if any).

We also have a "First Friday" tradition of going out for a drink. Or after a big field trip. Or anything where we've pulled off a big event and not managed to have something major go wrong.

Until I worked here, I'd forgotten about the joys of sharing food with colleagues.

#58 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:10 PM:

Graydon @ 36: First of all, this is me being grumpy. Second, he's naturally a very giving child, and usually willing to pick out things for others. In fact, he needs to learn how not to give things away so easily.

(Third, he needs to learn how to clean up all the stuff he gets and then piles on the floor in his room, and everywhere else in the house.)

Lila @ 39: if you let me know the name of the hippotherapy place, I'll try to put them on my little list. I've worked on farms with riding therapy classes, and I've seen the seriously handicapped children enjoying their rides. I certainly don't mind sending a few dollars here and there to a good program.

#59 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:12 PM:

It's been a looooong time since I had a physical workplace (well, I mean, except my desk here at home) or coworkers whose faces I've ever seen.

I sent a bunch of them Christmas cards this year, though. First time ever. I felt warm and fuzzy about it.

#60 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:15 PM:

I have been grumbling, some, about my company holiday party. It's in the evening, with a variety of food, an open bar, and music. The problem, and the thing I've been grumbling about, is that almost from the beginning of the evening, the music is at volumes that I find loud for dancing, and that make conversation difficult and/or painful. I left when I did in part because there were fewer and fewer people to talk to, and in part because my attempts at conversation had given me a sore throat.

But the general idea of getting people there, and serving a variety of food, is good; I would be happier if I could lower the music by 30 decibels (and remove the volume peaks altogether). A lot of people didn't want to dance at all, and few if any wanted to dance the whole time. But the restaurant, or whoever made the decisions, had it that loud even while just about everyone was sitting down with plates of hot food.

#61 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Ginger @58 --

Don't know how old your kid is, but am not getting any language about choice in what you're saying; it's all requirements, some of which appear to be in conflict, which sets off a twitch of mine.

Said twitch is derived from having been expected to be responsible as a child, which meant doing what I was supposed to do, with no element of choice or explanation about what "supposed" consisted of or why.

I see this from time to time outside my childhood circumstances, when a kid makes a choice and gets asked "are you sure?" until they (being no dummy) figure out that this was the wrong answer and they need to change it. Having to live with the consequences teaches. Having to figure out the existing right answer teaches something else again.

As I said, it's a twitch.

#62 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:03 PM:

My various food intolerances have cost me a great deal. I don't miss being able to eat a particular food, not very much. What bothers me more is the loss of community it has caused over the years.

When the company sends for pizza so the group can eat together, I can sit around the table with them, but I can't eat the pizza (can't have dairy.) When some nice person brings coffee and doughnuts to a jobsite and everybody sits and eats them together, I can sit with them and be painfully aware that coffee is a migraine trigger and almost all doughnuts contain dairy. I can sit there and not eat with my colleagues. I can bring my own food and eat it while all of them eat something else. Either feels isolating, even though nobody says anything about it. Nobody ever says anything about it...I think what happens with breaking bread together is different from what happens with talking together.

It all looks like a rejection of community, just like R.M. Koske described with depressive withdrawal. It's very interesting that the cause of that particular withdrawal turned out to be a problem with food. R., how does it work for you to share in "breaking bread" to build community when you can't eat literal bread?

#63 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Graydon @ 61: My son is just 13, and is a slob. As I would expect in a child of any age, really. His birthday was just two weeks ago. His presents were immediately piled in a huge pile next to his bed, in his newly-cleaned room, which is normal.

We ask only that he maintain a clear path from the door to his bed. We help him clean up every weekend, and it becomes a disaster again as the week progresses.

As I said, this is me being grumpy about the state of the mess, because it's a repetitive refrain of "pick this up please" and "these are stairs, not storage", and "would you please bring down your dirty laundry?". There are no unreasonable demands being made here, other than the usual parental demands of doing his homework in a timely manner, taking his shower and brushing his teeth nightly, wearing a helmet when he rides his bike, and other horrible things.

We are quite willing to work things out with him, although he does have to earn certain things, like time to play his games on the computer or watching television. We don't make him keep his hair short or long or any particular style, just as long as it's neatly combed every day. We don't make him wear nerdy clothing, although we do draw the line at hoodies (mainly because he then slouches all day, and looks like a lost soul when he's just trying to be cool). We don't make him finish his food, especially since he's on medication that has the unintended effect of suppressing his appetite; we just ask him to have some food at a regular mealtime.

We're not perfect, of course. We could clean up our bedroom, for starters. My partner tends to overschedule our weekends, leaving us exhausted on Monday mornings. I have a tendency to forget tasks unless they're right in front of me. But I think our son is not in danger of being forced into untenable "choices", despite my language triggering your twitch.

#64 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:30 PM:

One of the many things I miss about my previous job (from which I was laid off) was the tendency to have frequent lunches together. It was a small office, so everyone could fit in the same conference room. Several times a week, people would go to their favorite delis, pick up food, and bring it back, and then everyone would chat and eat. Occasionally we'd all go out for drinks after work as well. The latter was boring, since I don't drink, but no one minded if I slipped away early.

My current place of employment is very cold, in both physical temperature and spirit, and this discussion has helped me pin down part of it. People eat at their desks, or go out by themselves (or, I assume, in small groups). As a technical editor, my job is inherently confrontational. I miss the opportunity to sit down over food and make friendly conversation so my co-workers know I don't bite.

To be fair, next week there'll be an office potluck and a formal lunch, but I'll be out of town.

#65 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2008, 11:58 PM:

Adrian, I have a pizza dough recipe that has no dairy (or eggs) in the dough, and is just as good as a pizza with olive oil and whatever toppings you want even with leaving out cheese. Email me and I'll share. You could bring it in and nuke it if you know you are having a pizza day, and then feel like you're sharing in the experience.

I should have known how far my former company was going down when we stopped having potlucks, in fact they were discouraged because 'the new offices are very nice and we want to keep them that way.'

FAcilities manager even complained bitterly if our suppliers would bring in doughnuts or bagels.

And it looks like they're getting smaller and smaller. (I was let go because I was expensive and my boss thought IT could do my job--they're still trying to hire 'me'. A year later.)

#66 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:08 AM:

When I was working as a programmer, I often felt severely "othered". I was generally one of the younger people in the office, if not the youngest; I was almost always the only political moderate-to-liberal; I was frequently the only one not actively involved with a Christian church; and my outside interests and activities (SF cons, the SCA, contradancing) were apparently so incomprehensible to my co-workers as to render me equivalent to a space alien. I think it is little surprise that I quickly learned to think of communal eating activities as something to be endured rather than enjoyed, and that I was much safer keeping my personal and working lives as separate as possible. One of the driving forces behind my change of career was that after having been out of work for a while, I discovered that I just couldn't face going back to being the Office Freak again.

#67 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:32 AM:

I started being cook and server for meals when I was eight and thought of it that way until I left home. Having company was a religious requirement so they could be proselytized. Then when I got my first computer job, the company had a party every Friday night -- beer/soda, chips, and such -- that included playing music together and I enjoyed that. I started cooking and baking for myself and bringing things to work. I also started having company for dinner pretty much every week.

Then I had three years of consulting where I ate on an expense account and then moved to the company I'm on long-term disability from (22.5 years so far) where everybody thought I was weird because I brought my lunch. All the people even a couple levels lower than I was went out for lunch every day. On the other hand, I had a lot of money set aside when I had to pay for the hospital and such before Social Security picked up.

And now I can't really cook and even when I go out once a week, usually eat alone. But today was bookgroup and most of us go out to eat together afterwards and that's always a lot of fun. I enjoyed eating and conversing with Ginger, Janet, and albatross, too. I just wouldn't want to have to be that bright and quick every day because I'd spend too much time sleeping to make up for it!

#68 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:34 AM:

Adrian @62 --

I hear ya. I have food intolerances to dairy, gluten, and soy. Bread is poisonous, processed food is (almost) uniformly unsafe ("vegetable oil" means soy, for example; so does "lecithin", because guess what all the lecithin is derived from?) and restaurants, even with care, are always a bet about three days of pain.

Since I also dislike being a bother, it made work eat-together situations awkward. (Not as awkward as being the guy seen as imposing change did, though.)

Ginger @63 --

From experience wrangling 13 and 14 year old boys in groups, telling them to do stuff runs into authority issues (as in, they disapprove of all of it on principle) and apathy issues (since the hormones aren't generally helping either the attention span or the capacity to care); telling them why (even when why is "avoid negative consequences") seemed to work better. A continuous cheerful reasons-and-necessity delivery seems to work best, though I was never much good at that style of leadership.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Lee @ 66

That line about "when I was a programmer" triggered an insight. Up until the dotbomb in 2001 my software career (not my first career) has always involved jobs in which my work was central to whatever the company did, whether it was to manufacture computers or software to run on them, and often the products or services were for the use of other engineers. After that, and after more than a year of unemployment and dealing with spinal nerve problems, I got another job, and have had one other since then. In both of those jobs I was performing a peripheral service (IT development) and I tended not to eat lunch with my colleagues. I think now that this was a symptom of the depression that I was in, and that continued to some extent for several years even after it was diagnosed (by accident) and treated. And I think that part of that depression was the feeling that I'd been diverted from the profession I've worked at for almost 30 years to something that is very interesting to me, "being just a programmer", cleaning out the plumbing designed by someone else, rather than creating new ideas and products.

#70 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 02:41 AM:

On a couple of occasions, I've had to explain that English doesn't really have something that we say to each other at the start of a meal. Sure, some families say a prayer, but there's no equivalent to Guten Apetit or Mahlzeit, which even strangers sharing a table will say to one another.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 04:05 AM:

Re food allergies:

Could you bring a sharable dessert to an intolerable meal? Fruit, ice cream (if possible) or sorbet? Even a big bowl of candy would do, just so that all hands are reaching into the same dish at least once. If you're providing the food, you get extra bonding points, which should help to balance the fact that you didn't eat the same main meal as everyone.

Re sharing food in the office:

There's even more food-sharing where I work. There is a Dutch tradition called tracteren, which basically means that you bring food to your social group for your birthday*.

At school, it means treats and trinkets for your class. At our company, it means cake or tart‡ for your birthday. We all gather in the cake corner (taarthoek), everyone shakes hands with or kisses the cheeks† of the celebrant, and then we all eat cake together.

We do the same after people have been on business trips abroad, to mark major events such as a birth or the purchase of a house, in celebration of big sales, for penance after breaking the build overnight, and in payment of lost bets around the office. Or, sometimes, just because. Really, it's a wonder we're all anywhere near the right weight.

* In this they are like hobbits
‡ Some or all of which must be nut-free, because one of the team is allergic
† Three kisses, the Dutch custom

#72 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 07:57 AM:

#62, Adrian -

My success with joining in community-building has been mixed so far. At work, my experiences have mostly been like yours. Anytime food is brought in, I bring my own and feel pretty left out, or eat at my desk and feel even worse. I'm looking for ways to join in more while bringing my own food.

On the other hand, if we go to a restaurant, I do pretty well because my necessary fussiness is only noticeable during the ordering phase, and doesn't disturb the group.

My knitting group seems to have absorbed my intolerance without any trouble. This may be because we have a small group and meet mostly at a coffeeshop (can you drink tea?) where my situation doesn't isolate me. It may also help that in a way I was the first to offer bread - I'd brought some gluten-free crackers as a snack, and shared them around the table. I couldn't attend our Christmas party due to a cold, but at least one main dish and one dessert were supposed to be made with me in mind, and another person thought about it when choosing her dish, though I encouraged her to make something easy rather than worry about it.

I am not entirely sure my problem is that others see that I'm eating something different and see me as non-tribe. I think the problem is that I feel like non-tribe. I'm not as good as I'd like to be at social situations, making friends, or striking up casual conversations, and anything that distances me from the others makes it harder. I may try abi's suggestion of bringing a safe dish, but part of the problem is that I can't say, "Oh, have you tried Justin's dish?* It was so good! And I'm getting Julie's quiche recipe from her later, yum!" I feel like I have nothing to say. Sharing the food would have helped.

On a lighter note, my office has a tradition of providing a sweet at mid-afternoon for people celebrating their birthday. It varies, but it is always something that traditionally contains gluten. Cookies, cake, cheesecake, cupcakes, brownies. When my birthday rolled around this time, my coworkers came to my desk at two o'clock and sang "Happy Birthday," and with great ceremony presented me with...

A veggie platter. Complete with carefully checked gluten-free ranch dip. I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to cry, but I couldn't quite do either, so I ate carrots. Everyone else took a couple and vanished to their desks, possibly because they were afraid they'd be encouraged to take seconds.

Tracteren sounds like a good solution. Next year I think I'll bring it myself.

*At the meal I'm thinking of, Justin brought a fairly traditional party food - cheesy sausage balls. I nearly typed, "Have you tried Justin's sausage balls?" but couldn't bring myself to do it.

#73 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 08:42 AM:



When I think of breaking bread with a community, I think of this one. It's Winter Solstice this morning. Last night I invited friends and neighbors to drop by anytime between dusk and dawn while the Yule log burns, and I cooked more than I typically cook in a single week. One of the items I prepared was Teresa's "Savory Pie for the First Day of Winter" from last year. I had a slice of it along with a few bites of hard cheese, and it was like I wasn't just sitting down to dinner with John and avedaggio and our downstairs neighbor - I was sitting down with Making Light. It was a warm, good feeling.

Then it was my turn to play Wii Tennis, and the moment was over. :-)

By the way, avedaggio's empenadas are most excellent and not to be missed.

#74 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 08:50 AM:

Ah, food and cookng: this is something that I shall miss during my convalescence. And I am sure that my elderly parents are missing my efforts.

So is the cat.

Despite the many apparent futilities of my life, I can cook a decent meal. Doing so again will be a landmark on my road back to good health.

So will trying to hold the cat back from creatively adding to my typing.

#75 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 09:11 AM:

I didn't say so earlier, Dave, but I am glad to hear that you're not hurt worse than you are, and I hope that your recovery goes well.

#76 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 10:32 AM:


My current employer offers a substantial quantity (and quality) of free food as one of its many benefits. The justification is that it increases the sense of community among employees. I'm not sure how well it works with a larger company, but we're not complaining :).

(Background: Lee and I have the same employer)

Although it may not work on an overall company basis, having the option often means that some of my teammates and I will eat lunch together, along with people from other teams who see a group heading out, think "Hey! Lunch group!", and join us. There's also a community of people defined as "those of us who show up in NYC before 8:30" who will regularly end up eating breakfast together. Even if it's just one other person who can break for lunch around the same time, it's much, much nicer to eat lunch with someone else than all alone.

#77 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 10:47 AM:

Abi @ 40... we've stolen our only expression of the idea from French

Soo that's where it went. As for "hasta la vista", its French equivalent is "au revoir", which tranlates vewy woughly as "to the seeing again".

#78 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 10:48 AM:

I don't much care for eating with other people. Feeding them, no problem. Sitting down at a table with other people and eating? No. I really would rather not mix up food and socializing.

#79 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Ginger @ #58, Butterfly Dreams Farm. And thank you!

#80 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 11:06 AM:

As a lone wolf whose family connections aren't as strong as they might be, whose friends are extremely scarce, and whose family is slowly dying out anyway, this hits home.
When I read about how Abi's office eats together I wished I could work in a place like that. But it would take more than communal meals to remove the problems from some of the places I have worked at. Indeed, the problems would have to be fixed before such meals would be palatable. Now I have to worry about finding a job in the 1st place.
Now I am having a private solstice celebration at home, with music and such treats as last night's blizzard left accessible [most of the ones I need are here.] There are several online communities that impart a trace of warmth to this cold and worried life. Yours is one of them. I wish you all a happy solstice and whatever else you celebrate, even though I am incapable of sonnets.

#81 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Abi, your office has an official Cake Corner? That's the best thing I've heard in weeks, truly.

The people I work with are an alleged group of a half dozen or so field agents, all with separate assignments, who gather for daily meetings first thing in the morning. The morning meeting is always held somewhere we can get breakfast, but almost no one ever has more than coffee. And the district manager wonders why it never really feels like a team.


#82 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Someone -- I think here, on Making Light -- has quoted an anthropologist (?) as saying, categorically, "Humans share their food". I think most of us realize this, at some sub-conscious level, and understand that sharing food -- breaking bread together -- serves as an affirmation of their common humanity. And there's another saying: "Family is a group of people who regularly eat off the same set of dishes".

Somewhere in here may lie the popularity (among many of the people I know) of dim sum as a form of social communion, perhaps because it comes in sets of three or five items per steaming-pan, so you take one and share the rest with others in the Group. The Satisfaction this produces may be largely independent of the fact that almost everything is delicious.

And then there's the old fannish Church of Pan-Ethnic Cuisine, which emphasizes and re-enforces the ecumenical aspect of food-sharing. As does the (now unfortunately moribund, IIUC) fannish Prestigious International Gourmand Society (apropriately acronymed).

#83 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 01:52 PM:

abi: I think that if you aren't careful, the Netherlands might receive an influx of ML types under the impression that a commensal paradise awaits them. I know it sounds paradisal to me. Bicycles! Shared food! Helpful people!

I grew up in a family whose deeply rooted beliefs about community were that 1) people should be fed and 2) things ought to be lit on fire while this feeding is going on. I attribute this to the fact that my father and his sibs grew up in a house heated by a wood-burning furnace. My early memories of the family homestead are the smell of fire, and Grandma offering me delight after sticky delight that we never had at home (because my parents, though excellent people, were also the sort of people who would attempt to substitute tofu cheese cake for the real thing).

Now as an adult I slightly compulsively feed people, and mark milestones by lighting things on fire (in fireplaces or other designated receptacles). Coming to work with me today is a vat of chicken soup and a chocolate-fig-cranberry fruit cake which has been maturing for the last two months. Hopefully though, nothing will be set on fire.

I just made the connection that working in a specialty tea and spice shop, part of what I like about my job, is that I get to enable food sharing in others.

#84 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 02:09 PM:

I do not share my food once it is on my plate. I frequently have access to sharp objects and sharper words with which to defend my borders. I have failed at this once, when I shared a dessert (a tiramisu at a restaurant whose existence I have outlived) while under the duress of the implied threat of losing my job; the shame of that incident lives with me to this day.

#85 ::: Carol Witt ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 02:44 PM:

I think this sense of belonging is why I'm so adamant that I must bake some typical holiday dessert for my family's Christmas functions. My husband has a gluten intolerance, and I feel a deep need to make sure that he is able to eat something throughout the meal with the rest of the family. There's plenty he can eat during the main course, but pretty much every family-traditional dessert contains gluten.

My grandmothers experience the same reaction with him. They'd be troubled when he'd visit and they didn't have anything to offer him to eat. Now I'll try to take something to Granny's when we visit, since she doesn't do much baking any more (she'll still feel bad that she didn't have anything for him, but will be happy that he's eating). Grandma adapted a couple of recipes for him: she'll bake a batch (of cupcakes, for example), put them into the freezer, then take a few out to defrost in the microwave when he comes over. A new batch gets made when the prior batch runs out.

I've been in bad shape for the past month, and I wasn't feeling up to making anything in time for a family gathering last weekend. He took some gluten-free cookies he bought, but it just doesn't feel the same to me. He shrugs it off as unimportant. Perhaps I should have him read this post and the comments.

#86 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Lila @ 79: Excellent -- thanks! I know some horse folks who rescue horses (up in Quebec), and they may be able to spread this around too.

I'm about to make some peanut butter crispy rice squares, based on a recipe from an LJ friend who raves about them, and then share them with my family when they return from shopping.

One of the difficult parts of my job is that I'm physically separated from the rest of my department. My office is on a different floor -- although I am finally in the same building -- and I don't get the daily meals together, but I do try. They tend to forget about me*, which is irritating and depressing, so I have to be aggressive about getting into the lunches. This goes against my natural tendency to prefer lunching alone, so I can read. Now that I've read all these comments, I'm going to make more of an effort to eat with them. It might help them remember my existence a little better.

*Friday was an example: they'd taken a picture of the group for someone who was retiring, and I wasn't in it. They'd photoshopped in another person who was on vacation, but not me. Yes, they were apologetic, but once again, I get that pang of loneliness.

#87 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 03:28 PM:

Ginger @ #86, there is a special place in heaven/Nirvana/whatever for horse rescuers. I've done some dog rescue, and horses are so much bigger, more fragile and more expensive that I can only dimly imagine how incredibly TOUGH you'd have to be to rescue them.

#88 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 03:40 PM:

neil, way way up there,

one of the things which preserves the separation of the community of observant Jews, while also binding the community itself, is kashruth, the dietary regulations which make it effectively impossible for a Jew to eat with a gentile.

when my mother converted to orthodox judaism, one thing she never changed was eating her family's food, on their dishes.

when we went over to her side of the family for thanksgiving or something, we'd stick to the vegetarian options, but not ask too many questions beyond that. she realized that "i trust you enough to eat what you cook me," is a very deep-seated human signal.

& indeed, when my brother decided he was even more orthodox, "he won't eat at grandma's house" was the biggest scandal he had to tackle in the family.

but our rabbis* were certainly right in how such rules discourage jews from exomingling. if i didn't have the value of putting other people at ease & eating with them in whatever setting they choose, i probably wouldn't have non-jewish in-laws of my own now.**

*you know, our platonic rabbis, not anyone we knew personally. i admit, you people who use capital letters sometimes have the advantage in expressiveness.

** my mum-in-law decided we're doing cornish hens for christmas dinner this year, so she's buying me one from the kosher butcher, which i will prepare at their house, with my own utensils but in their oven. from a contemporary orthodox perspective i'm not keeping kosher at all, but i have worked out my version of "kosher" with my in-laws to a very satisfactory degree.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 04:25 PM:

Earl 284:

Sharing food from a common source (serving dish, stock of bread, half kilo of cheese) is very different from having someone take the food you have chosen for yourself and put on your own plate.

The former is a pleasant way of building community. The latter is an assertion of dominance over you*.

Not the same thing at all.

* If you want to train a dog to acknowledge your dominance, apparently one thing to do is to eat out of its food dish right in front of it. If you're not big on dog food, seed the dish with a cookie and eat that.

#90 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Lila @ 87: Amen to that. Horses need so much more than dogs. They are lucky to have some land for the horses, but it's a tough job to take on.

#91 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 06:00 PM:

Abi @ 89... Sharing... bread... is a pleasant way of building community

We shared calamari last night when making light by the Bay.
You expected me to make a pun about the flourosphere?

#92 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 06:27 PM:

abi @ 89

The latter is an assertion of dominance over you*

This is a common pattern among mammals, mostly among carnivores and omnivores. Dominance relations are demonstrated by the order in which animals eat, and which animals eat the others' leavings. One way dominance can be changed is by a challenge to that order; eating before you're supposed to, or taking food away from an animal you were previously submissive to. No surprise a boss might use it to establish or maintain dominance.

There are more subtle forms of this precedence in modern employee-employer relations*. When a boss and a subordinate go to an eating place together, it's expected that the boss picks food or drink first, and has the option (not necessarily exercised) of paying for the food, a sublimation of the "eat my leavings" show of dominance. Moreover, the boss controls the conversation in a group, and can stop all talk in order to address everyone. Not that much different from wolves, monkeys, or dolphins**.

* This is from my observation of relationships in North America; there may be different patterns elsewhere.
** I don't think I'd point this out to one of my managers, however.

#93 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 06:27 PM:

serge @ 91 ... I suspect Abi knew there was something fishy going on ;)

[0] ... although the fried calamari having been breaded does mean that we essentially shared bread and salt :)

#94 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Ginger @ 90

Having worked with rescued dogs* I am in awe of anyone who can do that with horses. Horses may not be as smart as dogs, but they can be just as sneaky and willful. And 800 pounds of willful is a lot more to handle than even a big Great Dane**.

* After 5-6 months we're just getting to the more challenging aspects of the behavior of the two we've got now. You just can't tell what you're going to get at this point by looking at them when you first get them, or by looking at their records.
** Who are usually pretty easy-going.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 06:36 PM:

But isn't the eating of calimari part of the Sacrament of Cthulhu? "This is my body, these are my tentacles."

#96 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 07:24 PM:

For those who'd like to share vicariously in the dog rescue experience, before and after pictures of my dog Lola, who came to me as a foster dog through Dachshund Rescue of North America, though she's only part dachshund.

#97 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 07:52 PM:


i remember the last time you linked to those photos, i almost cried. you're amazing.

my husband & i talk about getting a dachshund from time to time, & i'll definitely be checking out dachshund rescue of north america when the time comes.

#98 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Lila @ 96: Those photos remind me of the James Herriot story (the one where Mrs. Donovan is given the dog during a rescue, and later on she asks "Now then, Mr. Herriot, haven't I made a difference to this dog?"). You have indeed made a difference to this dog.

Our current dogs are also rescues, but from happier circumstances. The original owner died, his son wanted the dogs but his girlfriend didn't like them and they were larger than the HOA allowed, so his sister took them, only she couldn't do right by them, so she called Lab Rescue. They were overweight and recovering from kennel cough, but otherwise happy and healthy. They're skinnier now, and just as happy.

#99 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Ginger, I love that Herriot story. It's amazing what decent food and basic vet care can accomplish--and amazing, on the other side, how many animals are owned by people who don't give them that basic care.

miriam: dachshunds are cool! BUT--they are reputed to be the hardest breed to housetrain, and they are stubborn, loud and (usually) really into digging. Take these traits into consideration!

#100 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 09:41 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 94: The only saving grace is, a horse's brain is tiny, and you can out-think them. True, they can be a bit more dangerous than dogs, especially when they get spooked, but they don't bite as much as dogs do (at least, not unless you're working around stallions, because those do bite), and with both types, gentle persuasion works wonders.

I've dealt with fearful dogs (and horses), and only one of the dogs was a true rescue from an abusive home. That dog was very dangerous because no one could tell when that dog would be aggressive vs clingy/cringing. I never had any trouble with him, but I was the kennel attendant then, and was the provider of food/water/walks. If I'd been someone more important in the practice, I'm sure I would have felt his wrath.

#101 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2008, 11:40 PM:

abi, #89: Taking the food from someone else's plate, most definitely. If permission is asked and given, that changes the equation entirely. Even a simple, "Hey, you gonna eat that?" makes a huge difference.

#102 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 01:17 AM:

I'm feeling a trifle glum this year (it's been one helluva year, and neither is it over; nor has the worst of it, I think, passed). I think part of it is that the sorts of communal things I am used to are not happening.

Which I hadn't noticed quite so much before it was crystalized. I am looking foreward to the longer days and a new start at things.

Lee @51: Maia got into OT because she wants to go into Hippotherapy. It's fascinating stuff.

abi: The hobbitishness of it sounds really nice. About the only place have that is for wedding receptions. I suspect you are all at tolerable weights because of the largescale use of bicycles.

Don: I was a member of, "F.E.A.S.T." (Freinds Eating At Shared Tables).

#103 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 02:37 AM:

I worked at a company that was dysfunctional in a variety of ways, but where everyone was very pleasant to each other. There was the usual kitchenette with a coke machine, fridge, and microwave, but there was also enough room for one large table. People tended to sit down at the table to eat, instead of taking their food back to their desk. Chatting happened. They had the lowest turnover of any high tech company I've ever seen. I don't know if the pleasantness, low turnover, and the kitchen were related, but I suspected that they might be.
Then they moved from downtown Portland to the suburbs. I quit (90 minutes on a bus? no thanks) and quite a few other people did, too. The new office has a very large "cafeteria" with lots of small tables. I wonder if the folks who are still there sit together?

#104 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 03:01 AM:

Lee@101: Oh, sure. At the Making Light gathering people have been talking about, a bit of onion came with my hamburger. I don't like onion, so I didn't eat it. Doug asked if he could have it, and of course I said yes. Surely better that someone have it who wanted it than that it go to waste.

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 08:34 AM:

xeger @ 93... the fried calamari having been breaded does mean that we essentially shared bread and salt

...and we felt batter from the experience, eh? Anyway. I hope you had a safe trip back to Toronto.

#106 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 10:01 AM:

janetl #103:

It's also not clear which direction the causation goes. Is it that having pleasant meals together keeps the company a nice place to work, or that the unusually well-fit-together set of employees both work well together and have pleasant lunches together?

In my first job out of college, we used to play cards (Hearts, I think, or one of those other simplified-Bridge-variant games) over lunch. This was also a nice way to establish a sense of community, and gave people without a lot of common day-to-day interests something to do while interacting enough for their monkey brains to decide they liked each other. I met the guy whose band played at our wedding reception there, and I doubt we'd have normally struck up a conversation without the card game to hold us in one place long enough to make some connections.

#107 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 11:39 AM:

on caffeine-ing: I used to work at a university IT department where morning and afternoon tea (10am and 3pm) were compulsory. This worked extraordinarily well, a lot of cross-department problems got solved over a nice cup of tea. They also had terminal rooms where everyone worked, and private offices for the times when you really needed to focus (or take a nap, I confess). This became my model for the way to run an office full of computing cats who walk alone; though I've never had the power to implement it anywhere else.

Sarah E, "people should be fed" is the way my Greek wife feels about it too. She has a Tshirt that says "food is love".

I have two pheasant to cook for Christmas. Last week's bird went into a pie, one of those recipes in which the putative main ingredient is used as an excuse for lashings of butter and cream. Quite tasty, but I'm ready to try something else. Anyone got a good pheasant receipt ?

#108 ::: Tim in Albion ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Bruce @92,

the boss controls the conversation in a group, and can stop all talk in order to address everyone

Thanks for helping me understand why I hate it when someone taps a spoon against a glass at one of our monthly neighborhood potlucks. I love sharing food with these people, but really resent attempts to dominate the conversations.

#109 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 01:32 PM:

This thread crystallizes some thoughts I've had about the difference between the late period of my last job (in which I usually just ate lunch alone at my desk, having whichever of the in-building cafeteria's options was least offensive) and my current one (I sometimes eat alone, but far more often I go to lunch with a group; the entire company gets lunch catered on Friday). I don't know how much of the eating alone was cause and how much effect[1], but the contrast is interesting.

[1] After a sequence that started with us getting a big new building, IT moving into said building, and then my moving back into what was now "the other building" and winding up one of only a few IT folks there.

#110 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 02:53 PM:

miriam beetle @88: So you're fixing the hen yourself so you'll know it was not cooked in its mother's milk?

(Sorry, I'm enough of a goy that I still find this old canard hillariously funny.)

#111 ::: Suzanne F ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 03:02 PM:

In my newly blended family, I'll be meeting my new stepsiblings and new step-baby-niece over dinner. Hopefully the blending will be as successful (though no doubt much slower) as that of the soup.

#112 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 03:12 PM:

Our dog Monty's a Dachshund mix (mixed with what, we've never been able to figure; something with longer legs, though, because he looks like a Salvador Dali rendering of a wienerdog), and a rescue - he was a tiny wee street orphan before going to the place we got him from, and still has separation anxiety and abandonment issues. I can vouch for a stubborn and willful alpha-dog streak, but we didn't have too hard a time with housebreaking him; the only real trouble was that we never got him to scratch at the door to go out, so his "I need to go" sign is to sit down next to you and stare at you, and eventually start talking. This is also the sign for both "I'm hungry" and "I'm bored and I need to play," so we always have to ask him if he needs to go out, at which point he'll head for the back door if he does. (We learned this after one time a couple of years ago, having spent a couple of minutes trying very hard to communicate his need, he jumped up on my lap and peed all over me, with a distinct air of "Do I have your attention now?")

On food and community: Being of hearty Mediterranean stock, I grew up in households where feeding people is how you tell them you love them. This is so deeply ingrained in me that I think I don't entirely feel like a friendship is sealed until I've cooked for someone. It's probably also why I feel slightly guilty when I'm cooking only for myself; it feels like an indulgence, because food is supposed to be shared. (Parallels to other primate group-bonding activities are left as an exercise for the reader.)

#113 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 05:11 PM:

I nearly always eat alone at my desk. Grad school is extremely isolated and isolating. I really wish I could work somewhere with communal lunches.

I miss living in my college dorm because communal eating so often happened. There were only two kitchens, so you'd usually find someone else having lunch when you went to have yours. It was a fairly small, close-knit community, so it was a friendly encounter. I also used to bake cakes and pies late at night and feed them to whoever was studying/chatting in the hallway.

That dorm was like having a large, friendly extended family in many ways. Food was one of them.

I'm baking a chocolate olive oil cake as we speak. Wish I could offer some to all of you. It's just come out of the oven and looks lovely; we'll see how it tastes when it cools.

I'm also simmering vegetarian chili in the crock-pot. Onions and garlic sauted in olive oil till golden, half a package of Morningstar Farms veggie crumbles, pinto beans (probably about 4 cups cooked), two cans of diced tomatoes, cumin, oregano, cayenne, and a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa.

#114 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 09:29 PM:

jacque: As someone here (I believe it was miriam) explained, poultry counts as "meat" because it can be mistaken for mamalian meat (esp. if you have darker sorts of bird, like goose, or canard) and so might lead someone else into error.

As a group rule for what is/isn't good to eat, it makes as much sense as any (say the western dislike of dog, or the US dislike of horse), and more then most.

I assume everone here knows the name of the first Israeli flagged cruise ship... the SS Mein Kind.

#115 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 10:21 PM:

As for the last 20+ years, Xmas-night dinner will be within a few miles of my home in Boston, with members of the family-of-my-heart -- a little more heartfelt than usual, as it will be 51 weeks since the host's cancer was officially declared out of it. I'm not actually on the outs with what's left of blood kin, but the nearest are in Nashville and we haven't had cause to speak since sorting out my mother's estate.

Tech Support is on the other side of the elevators from my office, so we use the same kitchenoid/lunchroom. I've noticed that as many of them as can get off-shift at the standard time eat together there (some fetch lunch from the company cafeteria, some bring from home), and the conversation is usually lively (I've occasionally joined it briefly), but I suspect it's less effective than abi's case as it is one narrow, homogeneous slice of the ~1000 people at this site. Most of the people in my group eat at their desks, but we still support each other when some strange request comes knocking. I value lunch as a time off from colleagues around the world who want me to show them a way out of their messes. (I've been there nearly 14 years, but the more technical areas I get handed the less competent I feel to advise on the customer uses of them.) And it gives me time to read some of the newspaper and do the crossword (a pretty trivial one, but it's useful exercise in a different direction from work).
I don't sense the "othering" Lee@66 speaks of, but I wouldn't expect to around here even in a job where I'm one of the stranger people (by interests -- I'm whitebread compared to the spread of nationalities). At my first computer job, celebratory lunches were common, but they were difficult because the group of ~10 had personal restrictions ranging from "no red meat" to "not even eggs or dairy". Fortunately we were in the People's Republic of Cambridge, so there were many eateries built around such restrictions; it also helped that the omnivores treated the outings as an adventure rather than a constraint.

There is some argument that gradual death of dinner-after-business-meetings is one of the stressors in my main fannish group; they still do grilling and/or potluck (as the weather requires) after the more social meeting -- but the latter has fewer hard moments to put aside than business meetings do.

Erik@13: fascinating; I hadn't noticed the variation in animal size. What I did notice was that every feast starting with somebody mixing the wine, which I suspect shows the limits of common eating; a large and heterogeneous group
* might prefer to drink from a common vessel to assure nobody was targeted for poison;
* might be less likely to go from rowdy to quarrelsome if the wine was watered.
(If I'm reading my TEShaw/1932 translation correctly, abi is quoting a ~private meal between Menelaus and Telemachus, rather than a feast.)

Debbie@32 -- the problem with "2nd breakfast" in a computer company is that it adds to armchair spread. I put on ~20 pounds when I shifted from standing at a lab bench to sitting at a terminal, and the free elevenses were certainly part of that. (They were one of the first things I cut when my GP pointed out my gain.) And this despite going from an all-car commute to ~50% bicycle -- 500 miles/yr wasn't a lot, but it should have helped....

Bruce@92: the business-lunch scene in Tampopo demonstrates the Japanese strong version of the principles you describe.
and re 95: "For all they care, my blood could be red Ripple;/For all they care, my bod could be Big Macs." (from Wilbur Whateley Superstar, excerpted in The Decomposers, in Rivets!!! The Science Fiction Musicals of Mark M. Keller and Sue Anderson.

Terry@114 (connecting to several other comments): but do you know the nine-letter Yiddish word meaning "I love you"? "RngRngRng!" (A friend answered that the matching Italian word was "Znatr, l'nyy!")

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2008, 10:52 PM:

CHip: The watering of wine as a ceremonial thing is, perhaps, a holdover from greek symposia (whence come the word, "afikomen", where the host set the ratio of water to wine, which would affect the nature of the evenings goings on.

#117 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 12:00 AM:

Discussion of the power dynamics of food makes me think of the way things are in Korea, where it's a bit more institutionalised. It's expected that the boss will take subordinates out for dinner and drinks (especially drinks; Koreans bond over alcohol more than any other culture I have personal experience of) and there is no question at all of anyone else paying. A friend of mine once picked up a bar tab while his boss was in the bathroom; when that boss returned, he was furious. "How _dare_ you pay! Don't you know how much I make?"

It's not just work occasions, either. When people eat or drink in Korea, as a rule one person pays for everything, generally the most senior (in terms of age, class, job, whatever). If this is contested, you can actually see arguments flare over who gets to pay for everybody.

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 12:03 AM:

Terry, #114: My opinion is that if it's muscle or organ tissue, it's meat. This is more relevant in discussions of vegetarianism than of kashrut, but it ties into the argument you're making in a tangential way.

CHip, #115: Sorry, I was unclear. The "othering" I felt didn't have anything to do with my being a programmer; it's just that the break between my first and second lives was marked by a change in careers (and many other things). Even in a department full of other programmers, I was still the Office Freak because of the factors I mentioned.

And much the same thing applies to my relationship with what's left of my mother's family. I like to describe myself as the Neon-Purple Sheep of the family; it's not that they're ashamed of me, it's that they find me incomprehensible and alien.

#119 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 02:50 AM:

I tend to eat alone, at my desk, staring at the computer, whether I'm at work or at home. After reading through this thread, I'm realizing that one reason I do it is for the community: I'd rather risk dribbling mustard on my keyboard, and be able to eat while talking to people in a MUSH, than go sit at some cold table by myself and eat neatly. It's not the same as sharing food with other people, but it's nearer to the family dinners of my childhood than eating properly at a table by myself is.

#120 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 09:28 AM:

I eat alone at work, because the two others in the office tend to go out, and because it gives me a chance to surf Making Light and decompress between morning rush and afternoon rush. The three of us are in each other's pockets all day, so we're usually making conversation as we work.

#121 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 10:27 AM:

Doug K @107 Anyone got a good pheasant receipt ?

Why yes. Pheasant Pot Roast. Also how I roast pheasnt is part way down this post (which has a rude word in it so may be NSFW).

It's not quite the status of tradition in our family to have roast pheasant on Christmas Eve, but we do most years (including this year, Mum tells me).

#122 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Terry Karney @114: To you, I say, "Ahem." Also, I look over my reading glasses at you.

#123 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 04:07 PM:

For me, it's meat if it came from an animal, so counts more as a meat vs vegetarian distinction.

I have decided in recent times that when asked to bring along a plate of food to share, I'd usually supply something vegan. It's something I experience regularly that those with dietary restrictions (especially vegetarians) are not well catered for on such occasions. The usual solution is that vegetarians eat what everyone else eats, except for the meat, which in practice leaves mainly bread and salads.

Apropos the topic under discussion, our work has a Wednesday morning tea tradition, i.e. we go out to a cafe together every Wednesday for tea/coffee/cakes/pastries. As we mostly do our own thing the rest of the time, the Wednesday coffees go a long way toward greasing the wheels of community.

#124 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Soon Lee @123:
I have decided in recent times that when asked to bring along a plate of food to share, I'd usually supply something vegan. It's something I experience regularly that those with dietary restrictions (especially vegetarians) are not well catered for on such occasions.

I lived in a student co-op at university. Everyone did workshifts: cleaning, maintenance, food prep. Each night's dinner was the responsibility of a team of two main chefs (plus helpers). Each dinner was supposed to have a main course and a veggie option, but many of the chefs seemed to think cauliflower with cheese sauce counted.

So one year, noticing that our vegetarians were wasting away, another woman and I (neither of us vegetarians*) bid to do one night a week as a veggie night with vegan option.

The outrage! The fury! The house meeting was full of anger that, one night a week, no animal was going to die for dinner.

We did it anyway, and the vegetarians loved us. The carnivores survived, and the food costs for the house dropped a measurable fraction.

* Halfway through the year my fellow cook came out to me..."I think I might be...a vegetarian." Our friendship was unchanged.

#125 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 05:36 PM:

abi @124 -- institutional school food has driven me to spells of vegetarianism, twice. And there was nearly a third time, while living in a similar communal situation as you just described. One time the planners/coordinators got a hankering for liver, and it was my turn to cook. Liver for twelve! An enormous bowl of the stuff, which I had no clue about. Fortunately my cooking partner that week knew what she was doing.

Despite odd main dishes, overcooked cabbage, and mashed potatoes that should have been used as wallpaper paste, those communal meals were a highlight. Heck, even complaining about food brings people together sometimes.

#126 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 06:28 PM:

abi @#124: At my college co-op, it was instead the vegetarians who dominated: many cooks didn't bother with meat, and when they did it was often a cursory addition to (a portion of) a basically vegetarian dish. And yeah, it saved us a lot of money. (That was where I learned to make microwave nachos, which I still do.)

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 06:38 PM:

Abi @ 124... The house meeting was full of anger that, one night a week, no animal was going to die for dinner

I am reminded of 1981's Hugos, when emcee Ed Bryant mentionned having seen a cinema that had a double feature of Someone Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe and Soylent Green.

#128 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Terry@116: Do symposia go back as far as Homer?

Lee@118: sorry if I was unclear. Even among the programmers in my current job (rather straighter than my previous two), I'm different (maybe not neon-purple, but different), but there's no sense of othering; I attribute this to being in Boston rather than some other parts of the country.

#129 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 08:38 PM:

CHip I have no idea. I do know one of the things the Greeks marked as uncivilised was the drinking of unwatered wine.

I was thinking more in the vein of parallels to the order of the Seder and the hellenistic culture around the Hewbews; since it's plain they adopted some of the elements.

#130 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2008, 11:10 PM:

Terry @ 114 on the cruise ship
That's so bad that I have to congratulate you!

#131 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Neil W, thanks - my wife has been agitating for roast pheasant, I suspected bacon would be involved.. the next bird will get it.

The current crop of birds is going in a modified coq au vin I think. It's a recipe my father-in-law used to make in Greece, with the hardy old birds which roosted in the olive groves. I may use Beaujolais, if I can still find it. Mmm.

#132 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2008, 03:03 PM:

We're taking Forgotten Cookies (meringue cookies with chocolate chips & almonds) to the Christmas feast for orphans, waifs & strays we're going to today.*

The recipe was featured on a local current affairs programme which presented alternatives to expensive Christmas gifts, e.g. hand-made presents. And edible gifts = win. It was very simple to make & the results are delicious. (I sampled one. Quality control, ya'know?)

*It's already Christmas morning as I type this.

#133 ::: SR Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2008, 02:56 PM:

I've had great luck with gluten-free goodies this year. The new flour mixes in Bette Hagman's "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" are great for baking quickbreads and cookies as well as bread, and the recipes in Rebecca Reilly's "Great Gluten-Free Goodies" have let me add muffins to my breakfast repertoire again. Well, sheet muffins, the 9x13 pan's gift to the lazy. :-)

Rebecca Reilly has gone on to write a full-length book called "Gluten-free Baking", but what I have is a little small-press paperbound book from 1997 which seems like the precursor to her later work. The muffin recipe is easily adapted to blueberry, cranberry-orange, and banana breads, and I've had good luck baking in a sculpted braided pan as well as a glass sheet pan.

I haven't tested this yet, but the claim is that Bette Hagman's 4-flour mix can be substituted cup for cup in recipes calling for ordinary white wheat flour. You just have to add xanthan or guar gum to provide the elasticity, and possibly a little extra leavening. The 4-flour is 3 cups tapioca flour/starch (Asian market!) 3 cups cornstarch, 1 cup sorghum flour, 2 cups garfava bean flour. If you decide to grind your own garbanzo/fava flour, well, I hear you'd better have a fairly bronto stone-burr or steel-burr mill that's rated for tough jobs. The little tabletop mills may not cut the mustard. Ooh, mustard flour, that might be a neat addition to a cornbread. But I digress.

Bob's Red Mill has started selling the latter two in Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I find ordinary (Banned from) Argo cornstarch works fine, and get the tapioca flour from various large Asian markets for about half the cost of the stuff available at Whole Foods (sorry, Bob).

RR is a Cordon Bleu graduate, and apparently in her new book has taken the BH flours to a new level with arrowroot, coconut, and other specialty flours, but I find the BH stuff works for me.

Rose's Modified Muffin Mix
based on Rebecca Reilly's "Basic Muffins"
1.25 cups 4-flour gf flour or Bob's Red Mill GF Baking Mix
.25 tsp sea salt (round it a little)
2.25 tsp baking powder, aluminum-free please
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum (no magic, centaurs, or puns)
2 eggs, large or jumbo
1 cup milk (I use 2%, any kind ok)
2 Tbsp olive oil (little extra if FF milk)

Mix the wet ingredients together and blend well. Put the dry ingredients into a sifter and sift in one big batch into the wet ingredients. Stir in the dry by hand or with a mixer. Add the FLAVOR ingredients and stir or mix in. Pour into a greased pan and bake. 9x13 glass pan, about 40 minutes at 375F. 8x18 metal decorative loaf pan, 40 - 45 mins at 400F. Metal knife will come out clean but damp when done.

Note that these breads are not as sweet as commercial mix or grocery-store-bakery breads. Try making a loaf before adding or removing sugar, though, you might like the flavors shining thru better.

* substitute half-cup water, half-cup pulpy OJ for the cup of milk, add in WET stage
* generous quantity (1-2 tsp) grated orange zest
* 1 - 1.25 cups loosely chopped fresh cranberries (freeze for easier handling, and add a bit to baking time)
* optional 3/4 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* .25 tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves (or a bit more if you like it really jazzed up)
* mash 2 ripe bananas in the bowl and mix well at WET stage; do not subtract anything else!
* .5 tsp nutmeg, .25 tsp cardamom, dash of pumpkin pie spice mix
* 1 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* 1 cup frozen blueberries (big huckleberry type)
* 1.25 cup frozen small wild blueberries
* dash of pumpkin pie spice, .5 tsp nutmeg, .5 tsp cardamom
* nuts don't work so well here, but I have thought about adding a half-cup of almond meal for extra protein and to hold the blueb's together better. Hmmm. :-)

#134 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2008, 08:55 AM:

#133, SR Chalup -

Thanks so much for sharing the recs and the recipes! I'm just sticking my toe into gluten-free baking, and every little bit helps.

#136 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2009, 12:32 PM:

It is very cold in the spam storage locker...

#137 ::: Melissa Singer sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 09:10 PM:

My eye was attracted since I'm about to go breadless for a week . . . .

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