Bringing conviviality back to its value: Daily moments of individual and collective regeneration
We all have the ability to vote with our forks. Each individual, through his or her daily habits and food choices, can bring us closer to models of development that are not only sustainable but regenerative. The moment of the meal and conviviality must once again play a central role in providing daily opportunities that can bring people closer to each other, to their land, their territory, their identity and culture, and the care of the entire ecosystem. Aspiring to integrity and regeneration of daily life, including through the sharing of meals, has become essential.
The healing power of shared food
For thousands of years, conviviality has been one of the main moments to which sociability is connected. Not surprisingly, its etymological meaning is precisely living together. From the earliest forms of society, sharing the meal was never just a moment dedicated to satisfying physiological functions such as hunger but was enriched with deep meanings and values: nurturing a sense of community and fellowship and sharing knowledge, because food is much more than energy and nourishment. Food is family, experience, inclusion, and identity.
It is no coincidence that Plutarch, a thinker of ancient Greece, said that “men do not come to the table to eat but to eat together,” praising the cult of hospitality. Dante Alighieri wrote an entire essay on the Convivio, a 14-course banquet, true nourishment for body and spirit. And Jesus Christ reveals his deepest teachings at the banquet table.
But sharing the meal also reinforces solidarity and fills in the gaps. Aristotle, in his treatise Politics, discusses the importance of sharing meals to recreate within the community strong bonds as those that occur within the family unit, and reducing antagonisms. It is no coincidence that today we speak of food as a powerful soft power and of the table as one of the most suitable places to unite and bring individuals together, including during important agreements and negotiations. “Give me a good cook and I will give you a good treaty”: this is how the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Maurice de Talleyrand had addressed Napoleon, well aware that the delicacies of French cuisine could be a key detail in achieving diplomatic successes in the early 19th century.
Yet, looking at the snapshot of today’s society, it is easy to see how little of this is left. Especially because of the pandemic, moments of exchange and confrontation have diminished dramatically, and moments of conviviality almost reduced to zero. Family dinners have been a metaphor for the feeling of loneliness and disintegration that has permeated our lives, where everyone has been deprived of ties, generating disastrous consequences in terms of well-being and mental health. No wonder then that erosion of social cohesion and deterioration of mental health are included among the most worrisome risks to the world in the next two years, as revealed by the Global Risk Report 2022.
Food is then a metaphor for gifts, wealth, and exchange. We feed ourselves out of need and around a table we discover that we are equals and no one can feel superior. For this reason, conviviality is also an instrument of peace and conflict resolution, and at this moment in history, punctuated by wars and conflict, it is an indispensable moment to be able to return to our basic needs, reconnect with other people and with the Earth, mother, and giver of indispensable goods.
A Europe in support of human solidarity
The European Union has not explicitly shaped its political strategies by dealing with conviviality in the narrow sense, except for specific European cooperation projects, such as the 4Cs (From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture) project, launched to stimulate and nurture intercultural dialogue and distinctive occasions for conviviality, such as the one that recently took place between the EU Ambassador to Morocco and Moroccan youth to reflect on the EU-Morocco partnership and joint initiatives in education, training, capacity building, mobility, social inclusion, and support for entrepreneurship.
Yet, solidarity among member states is one of the fundamental pillars of the founding covenant of the Union of European States and Communities. And conviviality is the close sister of solidarity, one being a prerequisite to the other.
Since more than 5 percent of the population in the EU is made up of people born outside the political borders of Europe, it is essential to integrate these millions of people with the remaining citizens of the continent, and that is why the European Union is integrating a new framework that more easily allows for exchange without flattening, so as to emphasize the importance of mutual relations. Even the EU Green Deal itself only makes sense if it is thought of within a framework of solidarity. It is unthinkable to believe that we can achieve such ambitious results without strong underlying cooperation among member states, and without that same sense of belonging and community. Without a proper cohesive union, it will not be possible to meet goals as they can only be achieved collectively.
Finally, solidarity was the basis for the European action plan to deal with the pandemic crisis and the key to dealing with the war crises taking place on our continent and impacting, though not equally, the lives of us all.
Regenerating the world one forkful at a time
If food is for the Future Food Institute the pivotal tool and means by which we can regenerate the world in an integrated and integral way, then the physical sharing of food, understood in its power to unite and bring people together and people together with the land, is crucial if we are to create more resilient, united and aware communities. For it is precisely by starting with an awareness of everyday gestures, such as eating together, that we can understand our impact on the world around us and every living being in it.
For this reason, conviviality and its magnificent regenerative power for individuals, society, identity and the environment are at the heart of so many of the Future Food Institute’s activities and initiatives.
Even when the pandemic forced us to stay away. The Climate Suppers, an integral part of our Digital Boot Camps, provided opportunities to still pay homage to conviviality, albeit at a distance, discuss food habits, discover local varieties and share thoughts and reflections that reach from food to touch on climate change, traditions, and identity.
But it is especially from our Living Lab in Pollica, at the center of the Mediterranean and an Emblematic Community of the Mediterranean Diet, that the power of conviviality has been revived with exponential force and resonance. Because as UNESCO, which elevates the Mediterranean Diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, reported: that one of the undisputed cornerstones of this way of life is to promote “social interaction, since communal eating is the basis of social customs and holidays shared by a given community, and has given rise to a remarkable body of knowledge, songs, maxims, tales and legends.”
Food in the Mediterranean is a way of life in which time is valued, as a deep connection between natural, social, and inner dimensions; food that unites and reconnects lives and people, not only with each other but also with the land and the Earth. An exchange that sees it not only as the engine but also as the product itself, since what we celebrate today as the Mediterranean Diet was born from the encounter of the peoples who had populated this area rich in still unexplored resources, exchanges, influences, and encounters. Through this reconnection to our roots, we can rediscover ourselves as part of a community, and not as small particles living autonomous lives.
For this reason, every event, conference, initiative, and trail held in Pollica, could only end with the sharing of a meal. From our in person Boot Camps to the celebrations of the Mediterranean Diet, from the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World to the recent European AgriFood Week.
Conviviality becomes a protagonist and a means to discover the protagonists of food, share knowledge by bringing the field to the table, and directly experience the identity culture of a territory. “Mediterranean Plots – From the Land to the Banquet” was an opportunity to rediscover live conviviality and being together, starting from the ancestral source of enrichment and the common thread of our lives: food.
But conviviality at Future Food is seen and interpreted as a tool for sharing and integration, a bridge for peace between people and worlds that are different from each other, a preferential communicative channel, which passes not through words, but through collective and shared human values. For this reason, we promoted a fundraiser for Ukraine that centers around the table, our place of reference, to bring to the attention of the participants the true essence of conviviality, namely exchange and solidarity. Future Food is about food, but food is a vector of relationships-with people, with nature, with ecosystems-and conviviality is the lifeblood that allows these bonds to exist, a symbol and emblem of a much deeper engagement that goes far beyond the mere sharing of nourishment, but is instead nourishment for the spirit and the soul.
Because every time we gather around a table we find ourselves honoring the past, experiencing the present and preparing to build the future.
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