In the United States today, it's becoming more and more common to eat alone, to relate to food as a necessary, functional part of life, something to fit into our busy schedules. This mentality has even infiltrated our language. How many times do we hear: "I'm just going to grab something on the way home," "Don't hold dinner; I have to work late," or "Sorry I have to eat and run." The end result: Whichever way you turn the dining table, it's still devoid of people.

Not only is there no time like the present to do something about the loneliness that permeates our culture, there is no better opportunity to do something about it than each time you eat. To access the social salve of dining with others, when I give presentations, I often ask people to think about how they feel in their soul during those quiet, often lonely times while going home after work. How would they feel if they knew that their grandmother had been preparing dinner all afternoon; if they knew that when they arrived home, they'd sit down to eat with their children, spouse and grandparents? Then, perhaps after they ate the freshly cooked food while catching up on each other's lives, neighbors who lived nearby would drop by to chat and share some dessert. Smiles and pleasurable sighs at the prospect are the usual response.

Implementing the healing secret of socializing each time you eat is one way you can take positive, constructive action, not only to heal your relationship with food but also to correct the culture's unbalanced perception of the role of food and to reclaim your heritage. By putting into action the social and other healing secrets of food discussed in this book, you're positioning yourself not only to digest food's healing social nutrients but also its emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits.

Setting the social table
For some, uniting with others through food may seem simple; others might perceive it as a unique challenge. In actuality, dining with people in a pleasant atmosphere is part of our unique heritage as human beings. Whether eating together as a member of a tribe or clan or, more recently, during birthdays or weddings, we've been turning to food to enjoy or celebrate with others for millennia. As a matter of fact, some experts believe that this tradition became less common when central heating evolved, and families no longer needed to gather together in the kitchen to stay warm.

Bringing social nutrition back into your life is especially easy, because it calls for making some minor shifts in what you're already doing. What follows are some suggestions for integrating social ingredients into your daily meals and for making social dining a more intimate and integral part of your life each day.

Set a table for two.
If you're dining alone, "socialize" by placing a photograph of someone you love on the table. As you sit down to eat, conjure up favorite food memories you've shared: perhaps some exceptional pasta primavera served in a favorite restaurant, the time you savored a piece of chocolate together, or a special summer potato salad you all enjoyed at a family picnic. Or does the fresh fruit you're having for dessert remind you of the blueberries you picked together during a walk in the country?

Here's another option: if you have a pet - such as a cat or dog - feed your pet first so you can feel connected to it while you're eating.

Take a social nutrition break.
When my husband and I worked on a clinical research project at a medical university in Europe, we would often join our colleagues for lunch at the local cafeteria and socialize over a simple salad or soup. Every office lunch, snack, or coffee break is an opportunity for you to access the healing secret of socializing. Whether you're "brown-bagging" it with a tuna sandwich or dining on a simple mixed salad you purchased at the local deli, when you're at work, why not make it a point to have lunch with coworkers? Or, in the afternoon, take a social nutrition break by enjoying a cup of yogurt, freshly popped popcorn, or herbal tea with like-minded coworkers. Ultimately, eating with colleagues is an opportunity to build relationships instead of yet another activity that you do alone at the office.