True human connection can be challenging to come by. To be honest, just keeping in touch with girlfriends can be tough. Building a sense of community may seem impossible from where you stand today.
Community is more than being social or having friends. Community is belonging. It’s the ability to be vulnerable with those around you and to advance the collective. In our modern culture, face-to-face interaction seems to be waning in the place of digital connection, but perhaps, food is the bridge. We all need to eat. Why not make it fun?
Community is more than being social or having friends. Community is belonging.
There are many ways to use food as the angle, or perhaps “the excuse,” for getting people together. Food is love. There is no doubt about it in my mind. Food is an experience. It’s sensory. It’s tied to memory. It’s tactile. It’s all the good things!
When trying to build or join a community, there are ways you can cultivate connection through food. Think of moving to a new neighborhood, starting a new job, getting to know in-laws or even trying to branch out with a new group of adult friends.
Here are five ideas on how to create connection through cooking:
1. Make something that can be assembled.
Tamales come to mind for this. There is no better way to break the ice than inviting guests to jump in and help. I spent one Christmas Eve getting to know a new family member by way of making tamales, and it was so fun. We were all able to learn something new, to laugh about our technique and to talk without the awkwardness of sitting and staring at each other. Additionally, we all felt good about chipping in.
2. Start a cook book club.
Instead of getting together and chatting about the plot of a book (which we all know is more about wine and gossip than book takeaways), try putting together a cookbook club. You can all try a new recipe from the cookbook, and then share in learning a new technique without the pressure of serving it to others.
3. Host a themed potluck.
My grandparents used to belong to a culture club where once a month one couple would host everyone and choose a new country and cuisine theme for the event. They would all dress up and make food to bring that aligned with the place chosen. The hosting couple chose the theme, and everyone brought a dish.
Here’s a sample menu for a Thai food night:
Crab rangoon with plum sauce
Curry and lime coconut soup
Shrimp pad thai
Green papaya salad
Grilled coriander and chili whole fish in parchment with white rice
Mango sticky rice
4. Celebrate the seasons.
The change of seasons brings in an abundance of food options and produce that can be celebrated. Harvest Moon feasts are common around the world, celebrating all the amazing options we have in autumn. You can host an event where everyone brings an ingredient, and then you decide as a group how to cook it. Also, consider having everyone bring one produce-centric dish. Each person can bring fun and interesting items.
5. Celebrate a small holiday.
While the big holidays are all family-centric, the smaller ones have tons of fun traditions and food attached to them. Pick out a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day or even President’s Day and throw a little dinner party. Make all the food to match the holiday, and ask guests to bring something festive or dress up accordingly.
Here’s a sample menu for a President’s Day dinner (with a Ronald Reagan theme):
Mac and cheese bites
Wedge salad with blue cheese crumbles and ranch
Roast beef with gravy
Smashed potatoes with garlic herb butter
Jelly Belly ice cream and butter cake
Remember food is love, and there’s no better way to love on people than to get them together around a meal. Grab a couple friends, throw in some acquaintances and perhaps a family member or two and pick one of the above ideas. Don’t forget to let people contribute somehow and to always serve dessert.
How can you use food to foster community in your world? What recipes are your go-to’s for big groups?
Image via Dana Hursey, Darling Issue No. 14