Eat + Speak = Persuade

Courting couples often dine together in romantic, candlelit restaurants.  But almost everyone who has become acquainted with a potential partner over a meal knows that the food is of secondary importance compared to the conversation.  It is through speech that men and women gain an impression of each other’s personality. Fascinatingly, studies show that early in a relationship the man talks more than the woman. The man who cannot keep the conversation going will most likely not get a subsequent date. 


When a Hollywood producer tells an agent, “We must do lunch sometime,” the correct response is not, “Great, I enjoy eating pâté de foie gras.”  Instead, the agent will typically say, “Yes, we have much to discuss.”


In 1943, even before the end of World War II, a prominent French businessman and diplomat, Jean Monnet, wrote that, “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty…….The countries of Europe…must therefore form a federation… that would make them into a common economic unit.”


Over several years, Monnet convened many meetings, not in an office building, but in his Brussels home. He purchased the home chiefly because it possessed a large dining room.  He explained that the formidable challenge of bringing together nations that only yesterday were mortal enemies could best be achieved by meeting over meals.  Thus by encouraging factions to speak while they eat, Jean Monnet became the father of the European Economic Community.


The dating couple, the Hollywood agent, and Jean Monnet all knew that talking is more powerful when combined with eating.  Additionally, the host of the meal enjoys enhanced persuasive influence. This is why the man usually pays for the date and why business professionals often wrangle for the lunch check.


By bringing food into a story that doesn’t seem to require it, ancient Jewish wisdom teaches how much more effective it is to talk to someone who is eating your food.  See the eighteenth chapter of Genesis.  Abraham’s entire life mission was bringing pagans to God.  Once, when visited by three angels whom he mistook for idolatrous strangers, Abraham first fed them before commencing the conversation he hoped would convert them to Belief. 


Abraham’s servant Eliezer knew this secret. On a mission to bring back a wife for Isaac, he arrived at Rebecca’s home where her brother, Lavan, set food before him.  Eliezer, knowing that he and Lavan were soon to be adversaries in the forthcoming discussion about Rebecca leaving home and accompanying him back to the house of Abraham, declined to eat until after the negotiation.


He said:


I will not eat until I have spoken my words.

(Genesis 24:33)


He did not want to be disadvantaged by eating Lavan’s food.


Why does dining together make you more susceptible to the words of your host?  I’ll answer that question by asking another.


Why do we absorb nutrition through the same facial orifice from which our voices emerge?  After all, we don't smell and hear through our nostrils.  Dedicated functionality seems to be God's design.


As a religious person, my first reaction to that question is to seek God’s spiritual insight. In this case having one organ with two distinct purposes expresses our dual nature.


Eating is a completely physical activity we share with animals while conversation is entirely spiritual.  Animals don’t talk and angels don’t eat.  When we humans talk while eating, we tacitly acknowledge our fundamental human predicament of being awkwardly suspended somewhere between the angels and the apes. 


Sharing challenges, be they mountain climbing, military campaigns, or marathons, brings us closer together.  When we share a meal and conversation with someone, we tacitly share the challenge, the uniqueness and the excitement of being human.  We feel closer and the guest feels especially warm towards the host who made this experience possible. Understanding the connection between eating and speech helps us know how the world really works.



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