Opinion: Let food bring friends together

Holly and her friends gathered to celebrate the holiday with a ‘friendsgiving.’

Study after study has shown the benefits of close relationships. Those with strong social networks tend to live longer and have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

On the flip side, according to a 2016 Harvard study, the absence of friends can have the equivalent effect on health as light smoking or obesity.

Since we know friendships are good for our mental and physical health, why then has the number of close friends Americans report dropped by a third? Also, why have younger Americans (18-22) reported feeling lonelier than any other generation?

I would argue it has to do with the quality of our friendships. Americans may have thousands of friends on Facebook, or hundreds of followers on Instagram, but they rarely interact with these people on a day-to-day basis.

“Liking” a post is not the same as calling and saying congratulations. Social media created a situation where we feel like we know someone and what’s going on in their life, so we stop asking. We stop checking in, we stop reaching out, and we falsely believe the friendship will maintain itself. Like anything of value in life, friendship requires work and investment.

I learned this the hard way. As an introvert, there were times I dreaded when friends would invite me out and I found myself making excuses to cancel. As one would expect, these friendships dissipated over time and those friends faded into the Facebook realm of people I used to know.

Though housewarming parties and happy hours to celbrate a new job might be inconvenient to me, it was important to them and I should have been there.

In the midst of the holiday season, I’ve reached out to friends in the best way I know how: through food.

There’s nothing more unifying; everyone has to eat, and food is present at nearly all events. Birthday party? Better bring the cake. Fourth of July? Where’s the hamburger flipper. Bad day at work? Chips, queso, and margaritas galore.

Recently, my new friends from the culinary program got together and each of us made a dish to share in a “friendsgiving.” My old self would have never hosted a friendsgiving, dismissing it as too much work. But I’m so thankful that I did. As I was cleaning up that night, I felt renewed. I forgot how friendships can make you feel understood and there’s nothing that compares to being surrounded by those who share the same passions.

Culinary therapist Matthew Ricco, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, explained that cooking for others “can help to encourage a sense of trust, community, meaning, purpose, belonging, closeness, and intimacy … all of which have been linked to things like increased happiness, decreased depression, and greater/more positive overall wellbeing.”

As the holiday season continues, don’t be like the old me. Don’t turn down friends’ invitations. Don’t stay cooped up alone with Netflix. Don’t let time and friendships slip away. Instead, during the “season of giving,” I challenge you to give the best gift you can give– your time and attention to those special people in your life.

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