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To Feed Your Soul, Reimagine Sunday Dinner

Too many of us are eating alone, with only a cellphone or TV for company. But food tastes so much better when it’s shared.

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As a child sitting at my grandparents’ dining room table, I didn't realize the importance of Sunday dinner. I had no way of knowing that those leisurely hours breaking bread and sharing family stories would sustain me for the rest of my life. But Sunday dinner was where I learned my family’s rich history and first experienced the warmth and love I’ve been trying to replicate in my own home all my adult life.

My grandfather, James Russell Moore Jr., was a blue-collar worker at a foundry in Lynchburg, Virginia. My grandmother, Marie Antoinette Moore, was a county schoolteacher. After church on Sunday mornings, Grandma would fry chicken and by mealtime, Papa (as my grandfather was affectionately called) baked his homemade yeast rolls. The aromas filled the entire house.

Unlike weekdays, Sunday was when everyone was expected to sit down at the large square table together. Sometimes visiting aunts, uncles and cousins would fill the seats. But no matter how many of us were there, the big meal was never rushed. Everyone lingered for second helpings as my grandparents shared their wisdom, personal challenges and stories about their upbringings, transferring knowledge from one generation to the next over heaping plates of smothered pork chops and buttery lima beans.

Even though I left home more than 30 years ago, I never left the tradition of Sunday dinner behind. For me, it’s an opportunity to carve out space to cherish family and friends and to celebrate life’s moments, both big and small. When you sit across from someone at the table, you see changes in them that can be easily hidden during a quick phone conversation or email exchange. At Sunday dinner, I can share stuff that I didn’t even know was weighing on me, such as my mother’s declining health, the burden of unemployment or the loss of friends. I’ve cried in one breath and laughed in another. But by the end of the meal, I’m always reminded that despite all the stuff going on around me, it’s going to be okay. For me, Sunday dinner is the ultimate self-care.

Even after moving multiple times across the country, I’ve kept some version of the sacred meal alive with my friends and coworkers. Sometimes I join other families. Other times, I’ve initiated my own dinners. In Indianapolis, I regularly hosted a trio of journalist friends to bond over food. In Raleigh, the monthly book club meetings I enjoyed always included a big meal as a footnote to the discussion of the novel we were reading. And now, the Sunday feast rotates between me and a group of fellow writers.

Too many of us are eating alone, with only a cellphone or TV for company. But to me, food tastes so much better when it’s shared. I wrote a cookbook, Sunday Dinner, as a call to action, an encouragement to come together to feed the body, mind and soul. And although I cook for myself many nights, I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my table and witness the smile of someone who truly appreciates the work I’ve put into making a meal.

Having guests over for Sunday dinner forces me to clean off the dining room table and inspires me to pull out the good china. Because food and friendship are like salt and pepper — they’re the seasoning of a life well lived. My grandparents taught me that. And I’m so glad they did.