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Bonita & Estero Magazine

“Vive la Compagnie!”*: Those Who Eat Together…Are Friends!

Nov 21, 2021 06:30PM ● By DR. RANDALL NIEHOFF

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.   —George Moore (Irish novelist, dramatist, and critic) 


*This old song (written in 1818) was always taught at my boys’ summer camp when we gathered in the dining hall for our first meal together. For many of us it was the first time away from our families. Asked to hold our milk glasses high (as if we were about to make a toast) and get ready to rock side to side on our chairs, we leaned loudly into the lyrics: 

Let every good fellow now join in our song. Vive la compagnie! 

Success to each other and pass it along. Vive la compagnie! 

Vive la vive la vive l’amourvive la vive la vive l’amour,  

Vive l’amourvive l’amourvive la compagnie! Hey!! 


The growing sense of feeling “at home” was reinforced as we launched into the second verse:  

Let every good fellow now join in our song 

Success to each other and pass it along... 


Thanks to those musical sentiments, the blessed ties that bind began to work their magic: Three generations (preteen campers, teenage counselors, and adult administrative staff) were communicating, so the food tasted better, the nights were not so scary, and we enthusiastically jumped into the daily activities of camp life no longer feeling like strangers but rather like teammates. 

Such “magic” is sorely needed between generations these days, especially when so many travelers descend on our islands and line up along our Gulf Coast during the holidays of November and December. No matter what social categories we think up to describe or try to define a person (age, race, class, gender, etc.), the process for building bridges instead of walls between folks is really quite simple: step 1 – eat together; step 2 – take turns talking and listening face to face. You don’t even need a good rousing song. 

Step 1. Remember that the word companion comes from two Latin words: com (together) + panis (bread). What kind of food we share doesn’t really matter—both old favorites and something new can be conversation starters. Those of us who are Florida locals can understand the opportunities provided by sitting down to consume something from either our sea or our swamp. A native of the Deep South, John Dozier tells about the time he brought his new English bride to a family reunion. A bit apprehensive, she was unfamiliar with a number of things discussed at the gathering, including the consumption of frog legs. “What do they taste like?” she asked one of the cousins. “Well,” he explained, “they sort of taste like alligator.” (Welcome to the family!)   

Step 2. Today in our society we have six generations living side by side; when a circle of family or friends gathers for a holiday, someone who learned to read and write in a one-room schoolhouse could be next to someone who takes virtual classes to pursue a degree.  

Here’s a rundown on the widest generation gap in history: 

The Greatest Generation (born 1910-1924) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945) communicated via formal letters and face-to-face conversations. When the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) came along, the preferred means of communication was the telephone and, later, email. Gen X (1965-1979) went full on with email and texting; for Millennials (1980-1996) texting and social media were the primary forms of communication. Gen Z (1995-2012) communicates almost exclusively using a screen on their hand-held devices. 

The charismatic and joyful professional chef/cooking teacher, Julia Child, summed it up best: “The way to get people involved with each other is to involve them over food. Good eating and good company are marks of civilized living, don’t you agree? Without them, we’d all be savages.” 


Ran Niehoff has been gathering to dine and dialogue on Sanibel since 1991.