One aspect of daily living that is consistent across all cultures is food. No matter where you live or what your upbringing was, we all have to eat to survive. In this sense, food is often referred to as “the universal language.” Regardless of where you come from, food is not only consumed for survival, but also for social connection. Whenever groups of people come together, be it for business or for pleasure, food is almost always involved. This can range from a cup of coffee or some finger foods over a business meeting to a multi-course feast at your annual family reunion. The choice of food and drinks in a professional setting can be the difference between making and breaking a business deal, illustrating how food affects us psychologically. Many families say a prayer before eating together and share laughs, gossip, and stories over meals. Coming together for the consumption of a meal builds connections and memories. Food thus plays an important role in all of our lives on a biological level and an interpersonal level.
Of course, the way that food is presented and consumed varies across cultures. One such distinction across cultures is family-style versus individual dining.
Family-style dining involves multiple dishes arranged in the middle of the table or on a common plate that can all be shared among any number of people. Individual-style dining refers to one dish being consumed by one individual. This dish typically belongs to this individual and this individual alone.
There seems to be a very clear cultural divide between these two styles of eating. Family-style dining is common in many African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and South Asian cultures, while individual-style eating is characteristic of many Western cultures. Family-style dining is usually considered more informal. If you go to a high-end restaurant, you’re likely going to be presented with individual-style dining options. Religious and spiritual gatherings, such as the Jewish Shabbat and the Sikh langar, are characterized almost exclusively by family-style eating. Why is this the case? Should our culture or us personally make a move towards being more family-style-dominant?
Have you ever perused the menu at a restaurant and thought to yourself that everything looks so delicious that you can’t decide what you want? Family-style dining can help ease this dilemma.
With family-style dining, you’re able to have a little bit of everything at a relatively low cost. Family-style dining encourages people to try new foods they may not have had before without having to commit to eating all of it if they don’t like it. If you are concerned about portion sizes, family style can help with portion control. If you’re hosting, serving family style is often easier as it’s less effort on your part and there are fewer dishes to clean. If you’re dining out with others, family-style dining makes it easy to split the bill, as most people are sharing a little bit of everything.
Aside from the purely logistical benefits to family-style eating, there is also research that links family-style with more pro-social behaviors. In other words, it has been found that people who shared family-style meals in their childhood exhibit more altruistic behaviors later in life, not just in regards to food, but in other areas as well.
It is thought that on a subconscious level, sharing food primes you to think about issues of fairness vs. greed.
From an evolutionary standpoint, sharing food signals a concern for the survival of the person with whom one is sharing, thereby creating a bonding experience. Furthermore, food brings pleasure, so in sharing food, one also shares feelings of pleasure. Sharing meals together creates a sense of intimacy, bonding people together in a way that simply going out together and ordering separate meals does not.
There is also research that shows that children who grow up in families that share family-style meals exhibit better grades, fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and greater emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction.
All this being said, there are also benefits to individual-style dining.
People with certain dietary restrictions or food allergies might prefer individual-style dining. Individual-style dining gives you complete control over your meal. If you want to request a certain level of spiciness, make any substitutions, or customize your dish in any other way, you can do so easily without worrying about if it’s okay with everyone else at the table. In the case that you have food allergies, you don’t have to worry about your food interacting with other foods at the table—some of which might be harmful to you—with individual-style dining. If there’s a dish that you particularly like and you want to make sure that you get enough of it to keep you satisfied, individual-style dining might be a better option for you.
Oftentimes, people will do a combination of both of these styles. For example, it’s very common to order appetizers family style and then main courses and desserts individual style. Whether you’re dining out or eating in, there is a multitude of ways to be creative with food presentation and consumption.
What are our thoughts on family-style vs. individual-style dining? Tell us what you think in the comments below. You can also share your thoughts with others by joining Konversai.
Konversai is the world’s newest knowledge exchange platform that enables live video conversations between knowledge seekers and knowledge providers anywhere in the world about any topic that is important to them. The premise behind Konversai is that everyone, no matter where they come from or what their background is, has knowledge and skills that can benefit somebody somewhere. Konversai’s platform allows and encourages you to be both a provider and a seeker of knowledge. Everybody has their own unique interactions with food—a necessary element for survival. Whether you’re struggling with your diet, want to learn some new recipes, are experimenting with vegetarianism, or you want to share your delicious baked goods with the world, there’s surely someone else on Konversai with whom you can have a mutually beneficial conversation about any aspect of food.
So get on Konversai today, and bon appetit!