Can you recall a memorable meal? I’m remembering one right now. I was seven years old, and we were having company. My mother put out a little of this and a little of that – olives, crackers, cheese, canned tuna, and pickles. I remember feeling so classy that night because I thought only very fancy people would have something as French sounding as hors d’oeuvres for dinner. Years later, I mentioned this to my mom and learned that it was memorable for her as well, but for a different reason. She told me how at the time we had no money and those many little dishes represented all that was left in our pantry that night.
Another meal that stands out was a first date who made reservations. No one had ever made reservations for me before, and coincidentally he was the one I married.
What is it about food that can bring us together and even make us fall in love? Thanksgiving, backyard barbecues, candlelight dinners, milk and cookies on the first day of school? Maybe it’s the way food helps us to engage our senses or maybe there’s some connection between nourishing our bodies and nourishing our souls. Perhaps it’s as simple as the way food gives us a reason to slow down and spend time with others. Whatever the case, this draw in humans to share food is universal. And, just this year, researchers discovered that it isn’t only humans who bond over food. Chimpanzees who shared food were found to experience a rise in oxytocin, the chemical released by hugs and the one that helps us fall in love with our partners and bond with our children. One interesting tidbit from this study was that it didn’t matter if the chimps were on the giving or receiving end, the oxytocin was released for all who shared. Another interesting finding was that sharing food was especially important for helping chimps to form new social bonds – so, maybe making reservations for a special first date really is a good idea.
Food is a big part of our identity at Work Options for Women. For us, food is something everyone needs; and learning how to handle, prepare, and cook food gives our students a chance to become quickly employable in a way that enhances dignity and respect. There is an old cowboy saying that goes, “Only a fool argues with a skunk, a mule, or a cook.” And, it’s true. People instinctively recognize that those who prepare our food deserve to be honored, and being the one who brings the food instantly raises one’s status in a group.
Just as food bonds us together with our family and friends, food bonds Work Options for Women to the community. On May 5th, 2014, Work Options for Women looks forward to our 10th annual WomenCook! fundraiser. WomenCook! will celebrate all of this: the delight inherent in food, the company of good friends, and the way that food continues to create opportunity for our graduates to care for themselves and their families. Stay tuned for more about WomenCook!, and in the meantime, take some time to appreciate sharing a meal with the people you love.