Building relationships through shared meals and conversations

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Richard Scavola, 423rd Security Forces senior enlisted leader

Growing up in a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood in Philadelphia, every holiday or special occasion was celebrated with a gathering of family and friends, and always included a large variety of local foods. Reflecting back on my childhood during this holiday season, getting together, celebrating, enjoying each other’s company, and the sharing of food was a big part of my upbringing. It wasn’t until I enlisted in the Air Force that I realized, how unique the foods I ate growing up were to the traditions and culture of my family and the people in my neighborhood.  

Over the course of my career in the military, most years I have not been able to make it back home for the holidays to celebrate with my family and friends. However, these times provided me with the opportunity to share many holiday meals with my fellow Airmen. Whether that meal was in the dining facility on base, in a mess tent at a deployed location, or the hood of a vehicle on a security post on the flight line, our conversations often times lead to us talking about how we all typically celebrate the holidays with our families. These exchanges helped us all learn more about each Airman’s upbringing, and improved our understanding and appreciation for each other’s traditions and cultures, which ultimately strengthened the bonds amongst our team members.

Throughout my career, I have lived in several states and had the privilege to be stationed overseas in a few different countries. I have seen firsthand how sharing meals can be a great way to build relationships between Airmen and sometimes even help them connect with members of the local communities, especially when stationed overseas. The types of foods people eat are often unique to the region of the United States or the country they are from, or the countries their families originated from. These foods are a part of an individual’s family traditions and culture. Sharing holiday meal traditions can be a great way to facilitate and promote diversity and inclusion across the installation. When you express a genuine interested in someone’s family traditions and culture, it shows that you care about getting to know that person better as an individual, which can help build stronger and closer relationships. As stated by the late Anthony Bourdain, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

If you are unable to travel home to celebrate the holiday season with your family this year, I encourage you to take the time to share a holiday meal with your fellow Airmen, and/or your host nation friends or neighbors. Put down your cell phones and have a conversation about your cultures’ foods and traditions over a meal. You will discover that most people are proud to talk about their family traditions and culture. Get to know their backgrounds and build those strong relationships!