We believe there’s dignity in leftovers. Our Chewse to Connect series features stories from the field, highlighting the impact your food donations have on the local community. We talk about it all the time on the blog: gathering around food. Food brings people together, no matter your walk of life.
Fall, ahhh! The most wonderful time of the year. It’s when we can break out the chunky knit sweaters, ankle booties, and beanies with a fuzzy poof – or at least, that’s what Instagram tells us. But most of all, it’s the season to visit family (or adopted family!) and share a glorious home-cooked meal. Or a meal home-cooked by Whole Foods – no shame in that!
This time of year we can get caught up in the hype of it all: the gift-giving, pumpkin spice lattes, and the perfect hors d’oeuvres served on perfect plates. Oh, and the decorations! Every decorative gourd must be strategically placed so as to not look too calculated, but perfectly, intentionally haphazard. No one told us to, but it must be so!
But…why? Why do we hold ourselves to these lofty standards? Really, the reason for the season is rooted in giving thanks to successful harvests and sharing the bounty with those around you. This time of year is more than just gathering around food. It’s a reminder that everyone deserves to gather around a table to share a good meal.
The reason for the season
Think back to some of your fondest fall holiday memories. Getting all dressed up in your hero’s garb for Halloween. And the pure excitement (with a hint of terror) when you got to go trick-or-treating with your friends for the first time. Or Thanksgiving, when your family braved the Los Angeles traffic to make in time for heaping piles of mashed potatoes and gaggles of drunk uncles swapping stories.
The holidays aren’t perfect. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned and you can’t remember the last time you sat down with blood relatives for the holidays. Maybe you’d rather spend Halloween watching scary movies, or Friendsgiving is more your style. Either way, when we say “the reason for the season,” it’s not really about the spectacle of it all. It’s not (or rather, it shouldn’t be) about putting out the fine china to show Great Aunt Millie you still use them. It’s certainly not about how spick-and-span your house is (even if parents claim it is).
It’s about showing gratitude for the opportunity to gather around food and enjoy a delicious meal with people who make you feel loved and cared for. Isn’t that what’s so magical about this time of year? Showing your appreciation for people you might not see every day (or do)? All around the world, friends and families are doing the same. So where did all the fuss for gathering around food come from?
A brief history of gathering around food
All across the world, people are gathering around food in their own ways. With all that beautiful produce reaching peak harvest time, how can you not celebrate?!
In ancient times, people gauged time by measuring the position of the sun. When it was positioned exactly so, the solstices and equinoxes were celebrated by the Ancient Greeks and Chinese, and everyone in between. The Chinese Harvest Moon Festival, for example, celebrated successful harvests of rice and wheat, and is still a cherished festival to this day. Harvest festivals in Great Britain were eventually brought to the United States to give thanks to the season’s harvest – which then became Thanksgiving. In other parts of the world, Rosh Hashana and Diwali are commemorated by gathering around food to honoring a new year and celebrating light, respectively.
Along with singing, dancing, rituals, and games, the harvest’s bounty would be prepared into a grand feast. Prior to industrial agriculture, harvests were not just a marker of a good time. They were revered and, in some cases, a miracle. Typically, whatever was grown that year had to reliably feed dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people for the entire year. There were no grocery stores with seemingly endless supplies of food. The first of the harvest would then be specially prepared, such as baking a loaf of bread.
What we find so special and interesting about these rituals and festivities is how communal they were. These harvests were the culmination of months of hard labor, the elements, and a whole lot of hope (and oftentimes, prayer or worship). No matter who you were, you were invited to the grand celebration. Religious institutions oftentimes opened up their doors to ensure everyone had a seat at the table. Today’s times are no different.
Gathering around food is ritualistic because it’s second nature
Rituals are still fiercely abided by and we still care deeply for the food we gather around – even if we didn’t grow it. Long gone are the days when we sit down for a Tuesday night dinner. Ritualistic eating has been overshadowed by grabbing some caloric food thing on the way to the next meeting. So, holiday rituals are ever more respected and practiced because they offer a sense of assuredness and safety. There’s a comfort knowing that you’re going to gather around foods like stuffing, turkey, and pies year in and year out with loved ones.
Even if life prevents you from attending your family’s holiday feasts, it’s only human nature to practice those rituals outside of the typical setting. Even starting new rituals when you’re away from home is a no-brainer; immortalizing a new set of memories that carry no less significance.
With industrialized agriculture, we can get any kind of food at any time of year. But holiday meals, with their very specific set menu that rarely ever changes, this is the only time of year we eat the kinds of foods that grace the table. What’s even more interesting is that these foods are really only in season during this time of gathering around food for the holidays. These rituals reek of seasonal-driven eating without intentionally doing so!
There’s a freedom in honoring a yearly ritual that otherwise we are not afforded in our go-go-go lifestyle of needing to whip up a meal in less than 30 minutes. But we’re inherently social beings and gathering around food is just one such way we get that dose of social energy.
Studies prove it!
Maybe this all kind of sounds like heart-warming fluff, but It’s science, okay?! Cultures around the world celebrate and follow rituals because they mark some of the most important memories of our life. That’s why decorations become more over the top and the holiday season seemingly starts earlier year after year. They are ornate signals that this occasion is significant and celebration-worthy.
Eating together, a tradition that goes back to our early ancestors, creates community and improves people’s sense of well-being and sense of belonging to that community. A study found that gathering around food decreased feelings of isolation and widened people’s social network. And even though people agreed that gathering around food to share a meal made them feel closer to their community, only a third of meals were eaten alone. Work schedules and other distractions were the major reason why survey participants didn’t share a meal with people during the week.
Not only does food create a sense of belonging to a community, sharing the same food increases people’s trust and cooperation. Eating the same food suggests a sense of trust because dining mates are willing to ingest the same food. Gathering around food allows loved ones not only to enjoy a delicious meal, but to connect and exchange stories.
Yet, this almost seems like a luxury when you’re not sure of where your next meal is coming from. And when you do, or you’re sharing a holiday feast with loved ones or your community, it’s that much more special. It goes back to the reason why harvest festivals and holiday meals are celebrated in the first place: to show gratitude for loved ones and the bounty in front of you.
Stories from our community
Gathering around food for a good meal shouldn’t only happen once or twice a year. The impact it has on our health, well-being, and the community around us should be reason enough to take a step back from our life stressors. Making a more conscientious effort to step away from your desk and share a meal with your coworkers, or vowing to share a meal with your partner more often is a step in the right direction.
But maybe even more impactful still? Sharing a meal with the community around you. At Chewse, we work with Copia to delivery any excess food you might have to local non-profits like Upward Bound House in Los Angeles, Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, and Project WeHOPE in Silicon Valley. Below are a few stories from these organizations who were kind enough to share why gathering around food is so significant to them. And if you’re curious to learn more, head to the Chewse to Give page.
Upward Bound House, Los Angeles
Upward Bound House helps families transition out of poverty and find permanent housing by offering trainings and resources to reach self-sufficiency. Seventy-five percent of families who’ve gone through their program have been able to secure permanent housing. Chewse helps their food program offer meals to their community members. Here are a few of their stories.
From the Cantu Family:
”The kinds of meals that we received here at Upward Bound House has been great to say the least. We have been enjoying the hot meals. They are always fresh and hot. I am a single father who does not have much experience in cooking and I can honestly say that our dinner meals have given me a desire to learn how to cook different things.
My family has been able to taste a different group of ethnic foods (Indian, Mediterranean, vegetarian, Asian fusion) and a lot more. Growing up basically eating nothing but Latin food, we have really enjoyed the different types of food that we have been eating. So thank you all for what you do and giving us this delicious food.
From Angel, Bethany and Nova:
”My family is very thankful for the generous donation of food that is donated to Upward Bound House. It has helped my family save money so that the money that we would normally use to buy food, we have been able to save it towards our move once we get permanent housing. It is also such a great feeling to be able to fall asleep at night with a full belly, which makes us feel very content and with peace of mind.
The food that has been given to us at dinner time is also very healthy and has given me a wider view of tasting and trying different types of food that I would normally not buy. Thank you all for connecting with Upward Bound House to help those of us that are in need of a helping hand.
From Dominique and family:
”“With 3 children and myself, my food stamps were running out before the month was over. Since Ramona is giving us meals I can stretch my EBT [assistance benefits]. Especially [during the] the summer and the kids are home and are always eating. I’m grateful for this help.”
And, of course, we couldn’t leave out six-year-old Aaron:
”I like this food it’s fun to eat!
Project WeHOPE employs innovative solutions to housing and unemployment through transitional and emergency housing, a mobile hygiene outreach program, and training courses. Silicon Valley’s homeless population hit an all-time high in 2019 and Project WeHOPE’s work is more important than ever. Alicia Garcia, Associate Director of Project WeHOPE, has expanded the organization’s projects towards these efforts.
Chewse to Give is one such project. She shared with us that through their meal program, and Chewse’s food donations:
”One male client with serious chronic medical conditions has recently returned to the workforce after years of unemployment. He is about to obtain housing.
Located in the Tenderloin, Glide Memorial Church has offered radically-inclusive programs for over fifty years, to break the cycle of poverty and the suffering that goes along with it. Along with their crisis intervention program, a women’s center, family center, and anger management groups, they serve 2,000 meals every day, five days a week. George Gundry, Director of the Daily Free Meals Program shared with us that the Chewse to Give donations offer:
”Healthy, good quality, delicious options, variety, and proteins we would not normally be able to serve. [The donations] provides our community with delicious food they would not normally be able to enjoy.
Gathering around food, while second nature to most, is not always available to some. During this time of year when many folks are preparing for their big feasts and attending time-honored festivals, it’s especially important to show gratitude and reach out to the wider community. Excess food doesn’t have to go to waste. With our Chewse to Give program, we make it easy to gather around food at work and with folks who need it most for healthier, happier communities.