It really is no surprise that food is an important part of the Masonic experience. In his book Catching Fire, Harvard-based anthropologist Richard Wrangham suggests that the act of cooking and eating has made humans evolve into social creatures. Food is at the center of virtually every social function that takes place in our society. Humans often get together to have cookouts or go out to eat. So, not surprisingly, having a dinner as part of lodge functions enhances the overall experience.
I have seen different methods of providing a lodge dinner. One way is for the lodge members to cook the meal themselves. Sometimes, this is largely successful. Some lodges have the Brethren get together and cook the meal as a sort of social event with great success. Often, these lodges have members that enjoy the act of cooking and are very good at the art of preparing food. On the other hand, many of the lodges that cook the meals themselves produce bland, sub-par dinners that attract little attention from the members. In these lodges, the task of cooking is thought of as a chore and often the success of the meal is considered to be directly proportional to how cheaply it could be provided.
Another method of providing food is to have a meal catered or take the lodge event to a restaurant. This method requires the Brethren to either pay out of pocket or provide sufficient funds to the lodge to purchase such services. This is personally my favorite way to provide a feast at the lodge. It allows the Brethren to show up and enjoy the meal rather than show up at the lodge to work in the kitchen. Unfortunately, many Masons see this as an unneeded expenditure. They feel that it is too expensive for the Brethren. However, they don’t understand that a lodge can often purchase meals for the members for less than $20 per member per month. I believe that Masonry is worth $20 a month, but that is a subject for another article.
Regardless of how a meal is procured, it’s quality must be top notch. If you eat off of paper plates, the experience feels cheap and unimpressive. It is amazing how the attitude of a lodge will change when a dinner requires real glassware and silverware. Also, it is suggested that attire for a meal be at least a shirt and tie, but again that is a subject for another article.
Now, here is where I am going to suggest a real change. Historically, Masonry took place at the dinner table. The 1734 version of Anderson’s Consitutions contains a list of General Regulations which mention how Masonic feasts should be administered numerous times. In other words, feasting was so important that it was actually included in the earliest Masonic regulations. In America, early lodges were accustomed to meeting in taverns and enjoying food and drink as part of their meetings. I suggest that we must take the lodge back to the table. The lodge room is for degree work and conducting the regular business meetings, but the table is where the real Masonic intercourse can take place. Discussion about Masonry and Masonic education is better digested at the dinner table. The Brethren are more relaxed and less anxious. In the lodge room, the members often become restless and are in a hurry to end the meeting. But at the table, the Brethren are willing to sit and enjoy themselves.
You can hold many different functions at the table. Hold an official table lodge, invite a guest speaker to make some remarks, have a round table discussion, or allow Brothers an open forum to present their views on Masonic teachings. The possibilities are endless. It is guaranteed that good feasts combined with interesting conversation or speakers and a quality atmosphere will lead to a more active lodge.
One of the first changes that we can make to truly improve Freemasonry is to get back to the dinner table. Hold Masonic feasts regularly and often. Make them classy affairs that the Brethren can be excited about and look forward to attending. If the Brethren perceive their time with the lodge as valuable, they will not be afraid to spend a little money in order to enjoy a dinner with their fellow Masons.