About this time last year, ACLAÍ 2.0 opened its doors in Cork City. Since then we have started up a lot of new projects, from creating a training space that was accessible and inclusive for people of all levels of ability, holding an art exhibition, live music, movie nights, and even a theatre production, as well as continuing to build our unique training method.
One of the most important projects that we have been involved in at ACLAÍ in my opinion has been the Rea Bia project, and since then we have held 8 long table lunches at the gym. This is such a great event to be able to host, as everyone who comes gets a meal, and we keep each others company for an hour or two and break bread together. Getting a project like Real Bia off the ground (i.e. holding it on a regular basis and making sure people show up for it) is a tough enough task.
It’s a free event, in that we don’t make any money as a business from it, and there is no entry fee. On top of organising everything else that is involved with the business side of ACLAÍ, marketing, managing, coaching, the admin, keeping Rea Bia going has at times been a bit of a strain on the stress levels I am not going to lie! I don’t want to sound like I am complaining, far from it, but I just wanted to highlight the fact that we have kept the long table lunches going because we feel that eating together, and coming together communally is such an important part of our overall health, and a part that is mostly neglected these days.
I mean, think about it. The very idea of a diet nearly always means that you are socially excluding yourself from company in many instances. You feel guilty for joining in on eating certain foods, you skip the family dinner, or cook on your own so that you can stick with the plan. Its not that I feel that restricting your food somewhat is totally bad, but this long table lunch is a great opportunity to sit at a table and share stories, recipes, food, and banter away from the draw of technology, self-consciousness, and food guilt. We are social animals in my opinion, and the proof of history backs that up. Eating around the campfire, hunting together and dividing out the spoils, living in close quarters, and looking after each other by sharing knowledge and resources. In the modern day we don’t NEED to do this as much as our survival is not really at steak, but we are still social animals, and it feels damn good to be in good company eating together. Maybe we are hard wired to enjoy the type of get together that would have once been so crucial to the survival of a group of villagers.
The tradition of eating together communally, even with people that you don’t know is still found in the Basque country (and other places of course), which served as a great inspiration for the Real Bia Long Table lunches. I went there in April of 2016, and ended up in a Sagardotegi in the middle of nowhere, which is a large cider house where you get a set menu and drink cider from huge kegs. When we got there it was pretty empty, but then bit by bit a crowd started gathering until it was nearly full. People sitting along massive tables, a set menu, and cider straight from one of many massive barrels were the order of the night. It was such a positive atmosphere and one that is experienced less and less these days in my opinion.
Ballymaloe Cookery School, Organic Farm, and Slow Food
Another huge influence on our regular long table lunches was going down to work on the organic farm at Ballymaloe Cookery School every Wednesday for most of 2016. This involved getting up at 7am and being at the school for 8am for a morning of graft on the farm. It was such a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of city life, and trying to drive ACLAÍ forward. We would work on whatever needed to be done on the farm that morning, from pulling weeds, collecting berries, pruning fruit buses, hauling loads to the compost pile, caring for the many tomato plants, spending a morning at the dairy, or getting the place ready for an upcoming event. Learning from the gardeners and farmers was one of the main highlights, as was learning more about organic food production, and getting the hands dirty in the earth. Come 2pm we were at lunch with the students of the cookery school, which mostly consisted of a buffet of delicious organic vegetables, meat, breads, salads, and desserts. The most profound aspect of that experience for me wasn’t that we were eating deliciuous organic food, but that we were eating and talking together, praising the cooks, and telling each other stories and swapping jokes. Making new friends!
The slow food movement is something else that played an important role in getting the long table lunches up and running at ACLAÍ. We are not connected to the slow food movement in any official capacity, but I have attended a few of the talks organised by Darina at the Ballymaloe Cookery school, and found them to be an insight that you just cant get from a book, or as part of any formal education process. From soil health, farmers markets, and food poverty, there are many aspects connected to food that we just don't learn about as much anymore in a day and age where food is so convenient and abundant that it makes it easy to forget about the bigger picture.
The health industry and food
The bottom line is as a group of professionals in the 'health and fitness industry' if I can use that term, know sweet FA about food, real food, generally speaking. Sure, we know about protein, carbs, and fats. We know that you need to eat less sugar, and stay away from crap food, and often learn about the nutritional value and biological make-up of different foods. But for me that’s only scratching the surface. Without getting too negative about how nutrition is dealt with when it comes to weight loss, ask yourself these questions:
- What do we know about the health value of eating food together?
- Who teaches anything about the value of sharing ideas and knowledge around the kitchen table?
- How often do you hear your 'health professional' espousing the importance of teaching our young how to eat, what to eat, social norms, and how to treat each other around the table? Will doing this have a positive impact on their lives and the generations to come?
- What do we know about the negative effects of social exclusion due to dieting?
- How can you be healthy if you are miserable, underfed, or under nourished?
If you ask me, personal trainers, coaches, gym instructors, and many of those who are in a position of influence when in comes to what we do to address our health and fitness spend most of their time promoting the elements of nutrition that can be commodofied and turned into a profit. Supplements, and diets. Its is also too common to talk too much in scientific terms. "This is healthy because it has X carbs, and Y fats". We talk in numbers. This amount of calories, or this amount of grams. The benefits of preparing and eating real food, together, in a positive environment can not be quantified and sold. Having said that, there are people out there who are tuned in to the benefits of social eating and home cooking etc.
The thing that keeps us going and keeps the Real Bia project alive is that people keep coming to it to share their food and their stories. It is something quite unique, and great way to get to meet new people and get to know more about people that you know already. It is a wholly inclusive event, and absolutely everyone is welcome to come. The different cultures and cuisines that are there is unreal. At one event, we had Palestinian food, Sri-Lankan food, India food, Hungarian food, as well as the classics that we are used to around the Irish kitchen table. Where else would you get that?! The concept of the long table lunch brings us back to something primal, instinctive, honest, and healthy in more ways than just the nutritional makeup of the food that is being eaten.
Maybe I have it totally wrong here. Maybe the healthy eating text books are right and we should all stock up on zero calorie treats, food supplements, and salads. Maybe eating together is not a good idea. Who knows? The Real Bia long table lunches are part of the ACLAÍ stamp on the world, and hopefully it turns out to be a positive one.
I seen a great quote from Anthony Hopkins recently that sums up the purpose of the Real Bia project:
“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an after thought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you're carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There's no time for anything else.”
The next Real Bia Long Table Lunch is happening on November 25th at 1pm in ACLAÍ, Crawford Business Park. Because it is the last one of the year, we want to make it a special one. So far we have confirmed that we will have Tony from West Cork Coffee serving up coffee with his freshly roasted beans, traditional Sri-Lankan hoppers by Shakira, and are currently working on a few more guests and some live music fort the event. You can keep up to speed on the developments and let us know if you will make it by checking the event Facebook page, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.