By Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global
One morning while reading an article in a local newspaper, I found myself riveted by a piece titled “Midnight Supper: Spontaneous Party at the Witching Hour.” Written by Lois Maclean, a then-unemployed, forty-something woman, “Midnight Supper” is a story about something very unusual that happened to her and her husband at 10:30 on a depressing Tuesday night. As they were considering whether to go “into a full-tilt harangue about everything that was wrong with [their] life,” they received a phone call from Bradley, an old friend who had recently wed a woman from Hong Kong named Suk Wah; Brad was calling to invite them over for a midnight supper at a villa where he and Suk Wah were house-sitting.
Although Maclean and her husband were “awed by the very concept,” taking their friend up on the invitation meant a half-hour drive at 11:00 on a weekday night across the long Richmond Bridge in Northern California. They went anyway. As Maclean described it: “We threw on our jackets and hit the freeway, already feeling more interested in life.”1
Ancient “Ingredients” in the Midnight Meal
When Maclean and her husband entered the villa, she described the spontaneous, warm and welcoming hospitality that greeted them: “Bradley and Suk Wah handed us…flutes of champagne from their wedding,” says Maclean. Then the main meal manifested: “At a cluttered table in the bright kitchen, we dispatched a giant bowl of Suk Wah’s Chinese spaghetti, fragrant with ginger and dried shitake mushrooms. Afterward, we curled up with cups of herb tea.”
Explained Suk Wah as she handed around the teacups: “Midnight supper is a Chinese custom. We celebrate the magic of the night.”
Suk Wah’s idea to share a midnight meal with friends has lots of company. For thousands of years—over hundreds of generations—human beings have enjoyed the ritual of communing with each other over food. Indeed, if our ancestors’ past contains a single culinary theme, it’s uniting with others through food.
- Christians take the bread and wine of the Eucharist in communion with others, and on Sundays after church, often share a meal with other congregants.
- On the Jewish Sabbath, a holy 24-hour period that’s been celebrated by Jewish people since biblical times, devout Jewish families make it a point to stop the hustle and bustle of the week on Friday before sunset and instead partake of the Sabbath meal with family members and friends.
- Believing that the blessing received isn’t only the food but also the company, Muslims espouse both eating with others and sharing food with others. A unique social concept: the aroma of food while it cooks should encourage neighbors to come by and share the meal.2
The centuries-old food-friendship connection has been so integral to humankind’s eating experience, it was what inspired Suk Wah’s midnight meal. When I talked with her, I learned that her idea to “celebrate the magic of the night” with friends evolved from New Year rituals she had celebrated with her family during her childhood in Hong Kong. “China’s ancient folk religion has a god for just about everything,” she told me,” and on the eve of the Chinese New Year, all of them come to inspect us.”1
By preparing a special midnight meal, the family welcomes both these hundreds of gods and the New Year by gathering around and sharing an elaborate midnight meal. It is a truly festive family occasion; one that has nourished family and friends for millennia…no matter where they are in the world.
The Weight Loss Ingredients in Shared Fare
Along with its inherent uniqueness, what particularly caught my attention about Suk Wah’s spontaneous midnight meal was the impact it had on Maclean’s mood and mental state. Before the meal, she had been in a curmudgeon-y frame-of-mind about her life. But the social connection over a simple meal was so soul-satisfying, she and her husband “went home at around two in the morning, sated with simple food and simple kindness, our malaise dispelled. When we awoke in the morning, we felt…tired but satisfied, refreshed and a lot lighter of heart.”1
Social connection. Simple food. Kindness. Dispelled dissatisfaction. When a meal is infused with such social “ingredients,” some kind of healing alchemy seems to be set into motion. Our Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) model and program3,4calls this “social nutrition.” And it may provide some clues into the well-being Maclean experienced from her friendship-infused meal.
The opposite of social nourishment is what we call “solo dining”—one of the seven overeating styles we have identified3 —that are part of our WPIE program. And what we discovered is this: Eating alone goes against the “tribal consciousness” with which humankind evolved. And it is linked with increased likelihood of overeating and being overweight or obese.3,4Indeed, we found that the more often people dine alone, the higher their body mass index (BMI), which is the measure for weight levels. In contrast, we found that normal weight people typically eatwith others.3,4
The Message in the Midnight Meal
The physical and emotional well-being Maclean experienced after her midnight meal, and our WPIE weight-loss findings linking dining with others with less overeating and weight, suggest that…somehow…the “social consciousness” we bring to meals matters to our health and well-being. Physician Deepak Chopra explains the powerful, invisible nutrients inherent in “shared fare” this way: “When you look at nutrition from a purely scientific point of view, there is no place for consciousness. And yet, consciousness could be one of the crucial determinants of the metabolism of food itself.”1,5
Such inspirational ideas beg this question: Might the meal shared with loving friends be the reason Lois Maclean turned the doldrums she was experiencing at the start of her friends’ midnight meal, into feeling, instead, “lighter of heart” when she returned home? If so, perhaps the message in the midnight meal is that it is one thing to eat; it is another to dine on lovingly prepared food with good friends. For when we do, not only is our appetite satisfied, but body, mind, and soul too are nourished.
- Deborah Kesten, The Healing Secrets of Food: A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul(Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001).
- Deborah Kesten, Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul: Essentials of Eating for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being(Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1997; Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2007).
- L. Scherwitz and D. Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Explore: TheJournal of Science and Healing1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
- D. Kesten and L. Scherwitz, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14, no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42-50.
- Deepak Chopra, Body, Mind and Soul, PBS, KQED-TV, San Francisco, March 7, 1995.