photograph by Bill Lusk Studio

Food tastes better shared, and Sunday dinner (or supper, if it’s evening) is the most sincere expression of that sentiment. As a young girl, I remember sitting around the dining room table with my parents, siblings, and grandparents, the white cotton tablecloth spread out just so, freshly pressed napkins on our laps, the Noritake china with delicate pink and blue flowers filled to its platinum-trimmed rim. The platter of fried chicken, the bowl of butter beans, the basket of yeast rolls, the pitcher of sweet tea, the cakes and pies that my mother would buy at the bake sale after church — all of it made even more special by the hands that passed the bowls and plates. Our family’s midday Sunday meal was the place where I learned our rich history and recipes. At the table, one generation transferred knowledge to the next. The meal nourished the body; fellowship fed the soul.

When I was in college, I invited friends from the dorm to my parents’ home for the big dinner, sharing my family, in that moment, as much as the food. When I moved away from home, I found ways to re-create that feeling with people who felt like kin. Sometimes, that meant a home-cooked meal with coworkers, neighbors, book club members, or someone like me, who ate most meals alone. And sometimes, I found myself a new member of another family. When my friend Mary and her husband and their four children invited me over for Sunday pork roast and fingerling potatoes, I was filled with gratitude for their friendship.

Clustered in the kitchen, sharing the chopping, dicing, and slicing, it’s easy to catch up on the roses and thorns of the day. The occasion of a dinner together brightens spirits. Folks can’t help but be happy when it’s clear that someone has given their very essence in creating a favored dish. I love watching the expressions on people’s faces over the course of a meal — seeing what a perfect peach cobbler can do to the person on the other end of the spoon. When everyone has a seat at the table, differences melt away. The appreciation of the food reminds us how much we have in common.

Companionship is the secret ingredient. As smartphones and computers disconnect us from living in the moment, Sunday dinner is a chance to look up, use all of our senses, and reconnect. You don’t need a crowd to call it a Sunday dinner, either. A meal for two can be as beneficial as a supper for 10. When my grandmother was still alive, I would often drive three hours to have Sunday dinner with her. We didn’t need her linen-lined table, her china. She didn’t need to spend all day cooking. And neither did I. The communal act of breaking bread and celebrating life is essential. Sunday dinner, especially in the South, is more than a meal — it’s a state of mind.

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Bridgette A. Lacy is a food writer and author of the book Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South Cookbook.