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Times of the Islands Magazine

Good Seasons: Eating and shopping offer opportunities for connecting

Throughout the United States, Thanksgiving and the happy celebrations of December mark the arrival of the Holiday Season; here on Florida’s gulf coast the arrival of winter residents and tourists marks the beginning of THE Season.  The heartwarming inspiration that energizes and makes both seasons good is reunion—especially around the table and in the local shops. 

Obviously, if human beings are to survive, they need to eat and shop all year long; but during these special months such activities are treasured as opportunities for personal encounters. 
In regard to eating, dining becomes more than the mere consumption of food. It fascinates me that as we age our eyes remain the same size as they were at birth, while our nose and ears continue to grow. The nose contains our olfactory nerves—scent is the source of taste. The ears are the means by which we hear the words of others—conversation is the enabler of relationships. We are built to get better at tasting and hearing.

Setting aside time to eat together in celebration (whether in the house or out) provides the opportunity to appreciate food and strengthen friendships. The word companion comes from the old Latin words: com (with) and panis (bread). Breaking bread together is a much-needed antidote for the obsessive time most Americans spend on social media (more than two hours a day, on average). This repetitive, addictive focus on electronic devices (especially computers and mobile phones) has been shown to be a poor substitute for face-to-face dialogue, side-by-side activity and the cultivation of mutual understanding. Even thoughtful teenagers have quipped, “People are prisoners of their phones—that’s why they’re called cell phones.”


As far as shopping, the spirit of our local season reveals a similar impulse to bless the interpersonal ties that bind. If conviviality enriches dining, so does it enhance shopping. (Someone coined a phrase that could be called one of Murphy’s lesser-known laws: “If the shoe fits, get another one just like it!). This quest for the “other shoe” leads shoppers to do three wonderful things: (l) set out to find gifts for others; (2) slow down to enjoy the “hunting;” and (3) take time to engage joyfully with retailers and fellow shoppers. Numbers 2 and 3 are a much-needed antidote for the contagious epidemic of online shopping—which conveniently offers almost unlimited choices, yet very limited person-to-person contact. Consider the Internet company that captures almost half of online shopping searches and nearly $1 of every $2 that Americans spend online: “Amazon is trying to make shopping there the default and change people’s reflexes so that when [they] think of laundry detergent, they don’t think of the grocery store, they think of Amazon,” writes Olivia LaVecchia, coauthor of “Amazon’s Stranglehold,” a report released last year by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

This makes me think of all the folks I wouldn’t see or talk to at the store if I did my shopping online.                                                                                  

We live in a high-tech, low-touch culture. We need to invest less in saving time and more in savoring it—both in and out of season.
Written by Ran Niehoff, who has been dining and shopping on the gulf coast since 1991.