My research and the artistic practice entangled within it (documented throughout this website) is grounded in the notion of commensality. Somewhat deceptively simply, commensality can be defined as the act of coming together to share food. My work is at once about commensality and happens through commensality. Using performance as a primary vehicle, I seek to find new ways to understand how we eat together by constructing situations which invite people to do just that.
In light of the current public health crisis, it has been heart-warming to see people turn to cooking more often, or sometimes for the first time. Many among those isolating with other family members or housemates are now finding time to cook and eat together which they might not otherwise have afforded. Might the coronavirus crisis lead to a change for the one in three Britons who allegedly eat most meals all alone?
Even if this were the case, this relatively good news could only be overshadowed by the immeasurable number of people going hungry through this crisis.
I also wonder about those people who have sufficient access to food but forced to eat alone, as my grandfather, for example, confined to his room in a care home where communal meals have been abolished.
Perhaps irrationally, I also worry about the extent to which sharing our mealtimes with technology might seem like a good idea at first and then lead us to an increasingly more disembodied relationship to our taste buds, the emotional and social connections they make possible…
Perhaps selfishly, I also wonder about the impact this might have on my future work. My approach to commensality relies on bringing strangers together, often outside of spaces where you would normally cook and eat. It relies on building the necessary trust to ingest food prepared by an unknown other. It relies on the faith people are willing to place in one another. It relies on believing everyone has taken the best possible care…
This simple act of trust is, in fact, quite extraordinary as the consequences of ingesting inadequate foods could indeed be fatal. But, in the commensal circle, we leave this darkest of thoughts to one side, and we place our trust in the other as our fork, our hands or our chopsticks bring morsel after morsel to our mouth.
What might the impact of eating apart be? How long might our bodies hold the memory that the other might be the carrier of danger? And in that time, what of commensality among strangers?
At my most anxious, I picture each of us sitting metres apart, in enclosed booths, eating faster than ever before so we can lock ourselves away again once the deed is done.
When the sun shines a little brighter, I picture us feasting with people we have never met, choreographing each of our tongue movements to delay the process of digestion as long as we possibly can. I picture commensality as a pillar of a new kind of democracy… A global tribe of eaters emerges, and they make it their mission that no one ever again unwillingly eats alone.