5 Ways to Build Community With Food

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Cooking for others and eating together bring people together like nothing else.

Sharing food is a wonderful way to bring people together, to forge friendships, and to save money while having an enjoyable social experience. But if the thought of hosting a formal dinner party seems daunting, rest assured that there are other ways to share food with friends and colleagues.

The following list contains suggestions for food-based gatherings, both at home and at the workplace. I was inspired by reading an article on the David Suzuki Foundation website, titled, "How to start a food sharing club." Some of these suggestions come from there, while others are my own.

1. Start a soup club

This works best at a workplace where everyone takes a lunch break. People sign up, choosing a day when they're responsible for making a pot of homemade soup. They bring it in for everyone to share. Benefits include saving money – "If 10 people join, that’s nine, no-cost, healthy, home-cooked lunches for each club member" – and boosting productivity – "You’ll return to [your desk] refreshed, refocused, re-energized and relaxed." It's a great chance to new recipes and easy to cater to dietary restrictions.

2. Start a salad bar

Another idea for the workplace, you could organize a once-weekly salad lunch, when people take turns providing the greens and a dressing, and everyone else brings in a topping, such as chopped vegetables, feta cheese, seeds, chickpeas, quinoa, etc. The original article suggests this as a great springtime arrangement, following a winter of soups.

3. Host 'Friday Night Meatballs'

This was a concept I wrote about years ago and still think about often. A couple from Philadelphia cooks up a pot of spaghetti and meatballs every Friday and invites the first eight guests who respond on Facebook. These could be friends, acquaintances, or strangers. The point is "to spend more time with our village." Guests bring wine, salad, and dessert, and are told to expect a messy, chaotic household.

4. Embrace the 'Crappy Dinner Party' philosophy

There are a few rules that make a dinner party 'crappy,' although in reality it's probably anything but! These are: (1) No housework done prior to guest's arrival, (2) Make a simple menu with no special grocery shopping, (3) Do not change your clothes, and (4) No hostess gifts. The idea is to make food-based gatherings more accessible and common, without any of the stress that often accompanies them.

5. Start a food support circle

Another great idea from David Suzuki, this is a group of people who prepare food for people in need, whether they're sick, overly busy, just had a baby, grieving a loss, or struggling with health. The organizer alerts members when there's a situation that could use some homemade food, and people cook whatever they can:

"Suggest volunteers prepare dishes that freeze easily, like veggie chili and lasagna, quiche, soups and stews. Washed, chopped and ready-to-eat fresh organic, local fruit and veggies are a welcome treat, too. Pack food in reusable containers like pickle jars, stainless steel, etc."

If you have any more ideas for how food can bring people together and build stronger communities, please share in the comments below.