Take a moment to think of what your kitchen table looks like right now. If you are like many of us, the picture may not be all that pretty. With mail strewn about, maybe a stray jacket hung over a chair, and the random buildup from everyday life, this kitchen table has strayed from its original purpose. Rather than acting as a gathering place for family and friends to share a meal, it has fallen victim to a hectic, unforgiving schedule.

If this scene describes your kitchen table, you are far from alone. Gathering together for a meal has become increasingly rare. Americans are increasingly eating their meals away from home, eating more meals in their car, on their couch, or in front of their computer, snacking more, and spending less time cooking. Whether or not these trends are seen as an unavoidable result of modern life, there are very real costs to the changes. Children who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to skip school and are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, not to mention the health benefits of home-cooked meals versus fast food and takeout.

But gathering around your kitchen table is good for more than just your health and pocketbook – it also builds community and bridges divides. Throughout history, congregating at the proverbial kitchen table has spurred the creation of culture, language and community. In his classic text, The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin describes this ritual as

“one of the most important influences in our social life; it gradually spreads that spirit of conviviality which brings together from day to day differing kinds of people, melts them into a whole, animates their conversation, and softens the sharp corners of the conventional inequalities of position”

With this spirit in mind, we should reclaim the original purpose of our kitchen tables. In a time when our connections are increasingly strained, we should clear off the quotidian detritus to create a space for building relationships and strengthening communities.