There are only so many topics you can cover at dinnertime when you’re spending all day with the same person.

At home in Cambridge, even before the pandemic, my partner Jack and I have always tried to eat dinner together when possible. We cook together, or one of us will take the lead. When it’s time to sit, we light candles and put away our devices. Lately our mealtime talks have stretched beyond the news of the day and turned to what dinnertime was like when we were growing up. I learned that Jack, an adventurous eater (more so than I), for years wouldn’t allow different foods to touch on his plate. His favorite nights were when his mom would spirit him away after dinner, just the two of them, to split dessert at a nearby restaurant.

When I began telling stories of my own dinnertimes growing up year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, I realized it was impossible for me to separate the way my family ate from where we lived. For us, dinnertime was a family affair. We ate together, and it was a time to be fully present: no answering the phone or watching TV. My parents weren’t memorable cooks, but our simple meals allowed the ingredients to shine: fresh fish from the Net Result, meat from Shiretown Meats and vegetables that my mom would pick up from Norton Farm on her way home from work once it opened for the season.

As I grew older, other people in our Vineyard circle helped expand my palate, introducing new flavors and ways to cook, and showing me the inherent power in sharing food.

I remember one summer, I must have been about eight, when family friends in Chilmark decided to host a Moroccan feast that involved prepping and cooking for days in advance. As feast day drew near, my dad and I would stop by to watch the preparations and inhale the wonderful smells. On the night of the big dinner, we ate food that was unlike anything I’d ever had — fluffy couscous, bowls of spiced meats and vegetables, everything studded with garlic and onions. I remember watching the adults savor each bite, pausing midway through the meal to walk around the property so they could come back and eat more.

I learned that night that cooking and eating was an event — a feat all its own.

Another time, several years later, I was in the home kitchen of Vineyard caterer (and wonder woman) Jaime Hamlin, making pasta sauce with her son, my childhood friend Duncan. Jaime walked in, just back from grocery shopping, and lifted her head to sniff the air. She cut a stick of butter in half, threw it into the pot and walked out without saying a word. I learned in that moment that food is about much more than taste.

I also learned that everything needs more fat.

When I graduated from college, where I swore off meat, I moved back to the Vineyard to work at this newspaper as a reporter. For a time I had the agricultural beat, covering Island farmers, growers and fishermen. I learned about meat that had been raised locally, compassionately and with no hormones or antibiotics. I learned about trusting what was on my plate because I knew where it came from. Cautiously, I dove back in (with chicken from Flat Point Farm, if memory serves).

Then there were the lessons of gratitude and support that food offers. I can’t imagine a better place than Martha’s Vineyard to learn them. The stories are many and today the tradition lives on — just look at the West Tisbury lunch ladies feeding Island kids throughout this pandemic. But one personal story stands out.

It was early Thanksgiving morning and still dark out when I heard a knock at our front door. I was the only one awake in the house. I tiptoed downstairs and saw an older man at the door. When I opened it, he stretched out his hand, holding a bag of fresh bay scallops. He gave me the scallops and left without a word.

I woke up my parents. It turned out it was to say thank you for some deed my dad, an Island attorney, had done for him. A quiet note of Thanksgiving gratitude expressed with scallops just caught from the pond.

When the world seems too heavy, these are the stories Jack and I share at dinnertime.

Julia Rappaport is a deputy editor with John Brown media living in Cambridge.