How Slowing Down Strengthened My Relationships
It’s the open air markets that I love. The way that you don't even need to know the directions to London's Borough Market, for the aromas carried by the wind will guide you right to its core. Cross this street, go through this alleyway, down those stairs. Right to the heart of the action. The sizzling sounds of the array of meats. The scent of fresh coffee beans. The sponginess of fresh bread that disbelievingly costs a single pound. All of these, vying for the attention of your senses. It’s loud, and beautifully chaotic. A wave of different people, cultures, and languages ebbing and flowing their way around the various stalls. A swirl of midday bustle with indistinct voices being carried alongside the aromas. Step outside the market and the streets thin, a little less lively. Sounds dampen, the heart of the action now becoming a distant heartbeat.
The affinity for markets doesn't stop in England. To delight in Seattle's public market where fish throwing becomes a spectacle, or to tuck into the cozy corner of the best miniature donuts in NYC's Chelsea Market. To savor in the English Market's Shepard's Pie. To find the freshest figs from West Side Market. All have the makings of a day well spent.
No matter the latitude and longitude, all the markets have a similar goal – to bring people together around local foods.
"All great change in America begins at the dinner table," Ronald Reagan said in 1989 in his farewell address. At the time, he was speaking of the importance of coming together as family and friends in order to create, strengthen, and maintain these relationships. But in 1989, Americans did not carry supercomputers around in their pockets, nor were they constantly bombarded by the constant flow of media, texts, and tweets - all of which threaten to interrupt even the most intimate of dinners now.
To combat this increasing flux of distractions, my friends decided to have our own matlag, a simple yet endearing Swedish concept of a food club. It is a marriage of my two favorite things - my friends and local foods. Yet, the most vital part about matlag - is that it forces you to slow down.
We spent the day in Cincinnati at the Findlay Market, a delightful market that I had yet to visit in the heart of the city. It's rich with 19th century architecture, boasting locally sourced, artisanal and specialty foods within. Children tagged along behind parents, dogs enjoyed the attention of passersby, and patrons spilled out from the wine shop. The butcher fried fresh goetta for us to taste as we waited for our meat to be weighed and packaged in the familiar white paper. We sampled chocolates, selected cheeses, and procured flowers for the table that would soon be set. The sun graced our faces on an uncharacteristically warm spring day and the wine gave us a warm glow from within.
Back at my friend's home, we divvied up the work - some sliced, some sautéd, some poured the wine. It was natural and relaxing, but I couldn't remember when I last took the time to cook from scratch. Phones were not answered, emails were not checked, and I do not recall the conversation ever turning towards work. But instead we talked about new ideas, our futures, plans for travel - things that do not get the attention they deserve in the day-to-day bustle.
If I were to sum up the day in a single word, it would be 'deliberate'. Much has changed regarding dining since Ronald Reagan said those words in 1989. To reach back even further, sixty years ago the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today it is less than 12 minutes. Why are we in such a hurry? Few societies move quicker than Americans do, and the way we eat is no exception to this. It is exemplified even in how we speak - "Let's grab a bite" - as if we cannot even spare the time to sit down and enjoy meal.
Having since implemented the concept of matlag, it has resulted in a peaked interested in local markets and local foods. It has given me the curiosity and confidence to try new recipes, alongside encouraging friends. It provides a time to discuss strengths and weaknesses with our country, our society, and our own communities. Yet, it must be a conscious choice to adapt a slower pace. It will undoubtedly take longer to acquire necessary ingredients from a market than a typical store. Meals will take more time to make. But it's not a dinner that is delivered to you in a cardboard box and it is not a lifestyle of only seeing your friend's faces when they post on social media. Savor the tastes of the food and savor time well spent. I promise it is worth the effort.
Like the best of nights, it is one of those things you don't want to come to an end.