Greeting card designers spread message of communal eating sans screens
If someone hosts a dinner party and no one experiences it on Instagram, did it really happen? For the past six months Laura Mustio and Justin Gruneberg have been inviting their Instagram followers and customers to tuck their phones in a drawer and host a “Sunday Supper” dinner party. Laura and Justin are the creative duo behind Gathering Mountain, which sells cheeky hand-drawn cards you actually want to send your friends. Our current favorite: “You’re more impressive than free range tiramisu escargot over quinoa cordon bleu with an artisanal crème brûlée sage butter demi-glace flambé.”
“It’s holding us accountable to our relationships,” she says. “How often do you say, ‘I haven’t seen this person in forever.’”
Gathering Mountain is rooted in community. When picking the name, the duo started with the idea of a “comfortable, authentic place to bring your mess and your awesomeness and happiness all together and gather.” Instead of a commercialized social media message, Mustio wanted something that would inspire personal connections. So while you’ll see product shots of its cards on Instagram, you’ll also see posts about the Gathering Mountain Sunday Supper, an invitation to find a friend, colleague or neighbor with whom you’d like to spend time and share a meal. In the six months that the couple has hosted its own version of the Sunday Supper, there have been just two photos chronicling its actual existence—and neither features a single person. That is all by design. The meals are an attempt to tap into a zeitgeist that’s craving experiences that take people away from their phones and computers. “It’s the good and bad events that bring people together in the first place that have nothing to do with being on a screen,” Mustio says.
Whipping out a phone to chronicle what happens at the table has become as commonplace as opening a bottle of wine. But the act subverts the rituals that occur in the dining room, whether it’s the passing of the hot sauce a guest made as a birthday gift or the plating of the carrot cake made from a family member’s recipe. Your hosts prepared dinner for you—not for your 300 Instagram followers. Laura and Justin are our guides in this digital-free land. Transforming their home into a hosting space every month is an act of love. They make the food and ask that guests bring only what they’ll drink. “It’s not a fancy event,” she says, “but it’s nice to feel like you can give this way.” Their Sunday Supper Instagram posts offer tips for keeping it simple and placing the focus where it belongs: on the people sitting next to you at the table. “Enjoy each other’s company and a meal made (or ordered) with love, practice smiling, take a break from your screens and connect,” reads one post. These are mere suggestions: self-righteousness isn’t on the menu. For their own dinner parties, they curate a guest list that attempts to bring together people they’d like to know better, as well as those who had a presence in a different season of their lives. “It’s holding us accountable to our relationships,” she says. “How often do you say, ‘I haven’t seen this person in forever.’”
A wedding and portrait photographer for the past nine years (she shot these photos after a recent Sunday Supper dinner party), Mustio launched Gathering Mountain with Gruneberg after the recently married duo collaborated on their wedding invites—“we made goofy little portraits”—and realized they worked well together. Initially they explored a business designing wedding invitations for others, then nixed the idea for something that wouldn’t limit their creativity. This past September they opened the Etsy shop for Gathering Mountain. As Mustio says, some of their ideas may make your grandmother cringe. But the couple is interested in messages that “hit life experiences right on the head.” The vehicle may be greeting cards, but the motivation is more meaningful. It’s about making the world a better place by embracing shared experiences and valuing humanity over Facebook “likes.” When brainstorming a social media message that would evoke that vibe, a communal food experience felt like a good place to start. Every year around the holidays, one of Mustio’s best friends, a culinary school grad, hosts a dinner party rich in good food, friends and conversation. Those dinner parties are prominent in the highlight reel of Mustio’s life. The reason, she believes, is simple. “That idea of not having an agenda and not being obligated to do anything but enjoy? We hardly do that anymore,” she says. “Even enjoying it. You feel like you should be taking a picture for social media so other people can see that you enjoyed the thing—instead of just enjoying the thing.” Long before e-mail and social media, we shared experiences by telling a story. Maybe it’s time to brush up on our skills: a well-crafted tale of something we ate will always have a place at our table.
The event was a fundraiser for the Community Cafe at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and featured food by Chef Zach Lorber and his Culinary Arts students from the State College Area High School.
These are high schoolers, not culinary school students, but the reality is that they’re learning something new every day in Chef Lorber’s Culinary Arts program at the State College Area High School.
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