Breaking Bread – Building Bonds
Before March of 2020, the rough estimate was thatAmericans ate 6 out of every 10 meals out of our homes. If we did eat at home, we grazed, ate in our own rooms, or maybe in front of a TV. Gone were the days of preparing a meal together, sitting down around a table, saying prayers, engaging in family conversation, etc…
And then came the pandemic. And suddenly, what was lost or considered out of fashion, kitch, or pointless are now emerging as the necessary skills to make interactions such as mealtimes civil, if not celebratory.
There is a whole section of Washington’s “Rules of Civility” devoted to dining. Why? With little artificial lighting, no mass or instant forms of transportation, and the absence of the many dining or entertainment experiences available, mealtime was a central feature in daily living.
Some of what I share here may seem antiquated, But, surprisingly, trying to incorporate many of these rules may just make your holiday meal celebrations that much more special. You may even consider adopting these for your daily gustatory events!
90. “Set at meat, Scratch not, neither Spit, Cough, or blow your Nose, except there’s a Necessity for it.”
Commentary: Common decency when dining with others.
91. “Make no Show of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on then Table, neither find fault with what you Eat.”
Commentary: In these modern times when many people eat out, snack, or graze more frequently than actually sit down with others to “break bread” in any formal or familial way, the social graces of healthy, respectable, and gracious dining are all but lost. And yet, business luncheons and lunches are not infrequent as apart of commerce, conversing over deals, etc.…Thus the manners and mindfulness of eating bear paying attention to as one more avenue in which one demonstrates a civil approach to an important human function and venue of social discourse.
92. “Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.”
Commentary: More than likely this Rule has less to do with hygiene than it does about using implements that are definitely yours by their use and applying them to what is commonly shared. It may be considered not unlike an animal “tagging” something for themselves.
93. “Entertaining any one at the Table, it is decent to present them with meat; undertake not to help others undesired by the Master.”
Commentary: In this case the “Master” may be a father or whoever is deemed head of the table. In the perspective of such a hierarchy, Hawkins advises one not to invite someone to the table if you know that he or she are not acceptable to the head of the table. And, if they are, be sure that they are served like anyone and everyone else who is at the table.
94. “If you Soak bread in the Sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time; and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till (it) Cools of itself.”
Commentary: If you soak more than one mouthful, you will be holding a drippy piece of bread. Regarding hot soup or broths, those of manners learn that if you scoop along the edge where the liquid meets the bowl on the surface, you will find the mouthful cooled down enough.
95. “Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand, neither Spit forth the stones of any fruit Pie upon a Dish, nor Cast anything under the table.”
Commentary: It would be interesting to learn when the idea of cutting one’s meat or other food, putting down the knife, then using the fork to eat the portion began. It is now a more common American cutlery habit compared to the European style where both fork and knife are employed. And, if stones from a pie with stoned fruit cannot be put on a plate and you can’t toss it under the table, is it to be placed in a napkin?
96. “It’s unbecoming to Stoop much to ones Meat. Keep your Fingers clean and when foul wipe them on a Corner of your Table Napkin.”
Commentary: A healthy, upright posture shows breeding, improves digestion, and reduces the likelihood of mess or spills.
97. “Put not another bit into your mouth ‘till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.”
Commentary: The art of proper chewing, both in size and number of chews per bite, is not only good etiquette, but makes digestive sense from the standpoint of ensuring that food swallowed does not lead to hiccups, unnecessary belching, flatulence and other manifestations of digestive distress.
98. “Drink not nor talk with your mouth full; neither gaze about you while you are drinking.”
Commentary: Presumably, both aspects of this rule are to ensure that you look composed while eating, but also do not inadvertently spray or spill on others
99. “Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after drinking, wipe your lips; breath not then or ever with too great a noise, for its uncivil.”
Commentary: Composure creates a context in which others are engaged in a state of greater ease and receptivity for civil discourse.
100. “Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done without a peep to them.”
Commentary: Mind your own manners as such and make no comment to others, lest to make a spectacle of their improprieties, which will cause embarrassment and/or annoyance.
101. “Rinse not your mouth in the presence of others.”
Commentary: Such a behavior is best done in private or in a bathroom.
102. “It is out of use to call upon the company often to eat; nor need you drink to others every time you drink.”
Commentary: Although to do these acts is a custom of courtesy, know your situation, the time, and the timing. To act reflexively or habitually in such matters will usually create awkward moments, which may be perceived as token or insincere.
103. “In the company of your betters, be not longer in eating than they are; lay not your arm but only your hand upon the table.”
Commentary: To linger longer when eating puts you in the situation of setting the timing and pace of the dining situation, which could be considered lazy or disrespectful to those who one should defer to. Also, to place one’s arm on the table may be seen as sign of laziness, a casual attitude, or impropriety.
104. “It belongs to the chiefest in company to unfold his napkin and fall to meat first, but he ought then to begin in time and to dispatch with dexterity that the slowest may have time allowed him.”
Commentary: A sign of a truly quality leader, patron, or “chiefest” person is that they have a natural and/or due consideration for everyone at the table so that no person feels lesser or embarrassed unduly, regardless of their standing.
105. “Be not angry at the table, whatever happens; and if you have reason to be so, show it not; put on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.”
Commentary: (We’ve talked about this before. But, as a reminder…) Nothing ruins a meal faster than anger and other negative emotions people are feeling and/or displaying while trying to eat. Try to clear the air, let it go. Breathing deeply and calmly, like in meditation. And if you cannot contain yourself, it is better to excuse yourself than to infect the dining experience of others.
106. “Set not yourself at the upper of the table; but if it be your due or that the master of the house will have it so, contend not, least you should trouble the company.”
Commentary: It is not your place to chose the head of the table as yours unless it is so. However, when the master or company offer you that spot, you should accept their generosity. In Buddhist thinking, it is always beneficial to the one offering generosity for one to accept it from them.
107. “If others talk at the table, be attentive but talk not with meat in your mouth.”
Commentary: Do not let your haste to respond make a display of the content of your mouth. By allowing chewing to set the pace, your words will be far better considered, presented, and more than likely received.