According to Putman, there has been a 58 percent reduction in attendance at club meetings among Americans in the past 25 years. Putman’s research shows that joining and participating in just one group cuts in half your odds of dying within the next year.
As a child, I remember attending chili, spaghetti and fish dinners for large number of clubs that existed like the band parents, The Mother’s Club, the DeMolays, the Cub Scouts, The Rainbow Girls, the volunteer fire department, the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, The VFW, the Oddfellows and numerous other civic and fraternal organizations in our small town. Many of these events were held in the local Community Recreation Center. This center, built right after World War II, had a large kitchen where a core group of women from the community would congregate to actually cook the food.
As a kid, the part I liked best was all the homemade desserts (mostly slices of pie and cake) on paper plates laid out on the center’s ping pong tables. It’s not clear to what extent these community functions have decreased, but Putman reports that even family dinners together have decreased by 43 percent in the last 25 years.
Only very wealthy people could afford to have weddings, anniversaries and other such activities professionally catered. At most of these events, you would see the same group of chili supper ladies preparing hams and huge roasters full of Galumpkis (Polish cabbage rolls) in some church or social hall kitchen. All of these events gave people opportunities to meet with and share a meal with their neighbors.
Such large community meals are nothing new. According to Marquette University anthropologist Jane Peterson, the archeological record shows that nearly 10,000 years ago, meals involving large groups of people and large quantities of food were already commonplace. Informal communal meals like chili and spaghetti suppers helped to forge and cement the social bonds between peoples and families. University of Manchester sociologist Alan Warde, says that “eating together is perhaps the most basic expression of human sociality ...”