Is too straight-forward of me to tell you that I wish this article were distributed to newly married couples as well as with the inch-thick paperwork pile you are handed mere minutes after a newborn arrives?
What do you think?
What do you think?
Imagine a world where the dinner bell rings, and feet from nooks and crannies all around the house come shuffling to the table. There, great bowls spill with home-cooked foods. The table is set with silverware and napkins, cloth ones. Conversation, the give-and-take of great ideas, or silly stories, flows. Laughter punctuates the tinkling of forks and knives, scraping against the plates. Someone asks, politely, "Please pass the peas."
Scratch that. Imagine not the whole wide world that way, but just one house. Your house.
Imagine that soccer practice isn't smack-dab at the dinner hour. Imagine you're not driving through the Drive-Thru and calling it "good enough." Imagine that the TV isn't roaring.
Radical imagination, we know.
But we're about to get radical. Really, really radical.
It's time, people, to reclaim the family dinner.
It is, in our measure, not only essential for the care and comfort of the ones you love, but it also lays down a lifetime of memory that stands a chance of stoking generation after generation. Family dinner goes a long way toward keeping civilization from crumbling. The body politic, you might say, is launched with fork and spoon. Sopping up spilled milk is mere rehearsal for decades of diplomacy.
No short order, surely.
And, yes, yes, we know …
There are a million and one reasons that it's practically as hard to get food on the table and bodies in the chairs after a long, hard day as it is to, heck, circle the moon.
We know, thanks to the most up-to-the-minute snapshot by the market research gurus at the NPD Group, in a study titled "Dinnertime MealScape 2009," that if a camera peeked in the kitchen window of every American household we would see slightly more than half of them eating all together (an uptick, thanks likely to the recession). But in a third of the homes, meals are being eaten in shifts. In almost 4 out of 10 households, the TV is blaring during dinner. In 4 percent of the households, there's a computer right beside the dinner plate. And the computer is whirring away.
The bottom line, according to NPD's Kim McLynn: "There are more (of us eating together) than what most people believe, but we're approaching it in the easiest way possible."
Are we cranking up the stove, peeling a real potato, doing any actual cooking? "We're looking for any way around that," McLynn said.
Behold the counterargument.
"Family dinner is one-stop shopping for health and wellness," declared Lucinda Scala Quinn, co-host of PBS' "Everyday Food," executive food director for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and author of "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys" (Artisan, $27.95).
"You have to eat, so why not nourish the ones you love physically, emotionally, spiritually?" Quinn asks. "You're using this necessary function to create a lifelong dialogue with the people you live with."
It won't happen overnight, she cautioned. "It's a day-in-and-day-out commitment, and there aren't rewards all the time. But when you see it, not all the money in the world could buy it. Each of those moments is like a little pearl on a necklace. When you look back on those pearls — when you have a 22-year-old who invites you for dinner, when you have a kid who likes vegetables, when you think of all the laughter and stories and learning that took place at the table — you're going to have a magnificent necklace."
Chef and cookbook author Lisa Schroeder couldn't agree more.
The dinner table, she said, "is a great location for many lessons of civilization. We pass the plate, we use tongs instead of grabbing. It opens a door for all sorts of communication. Sometimes you just have to set aside the time and make it happen."
Schroeder, a European-trained chef and single mom who felt so compelled to preserve home cooking that she opened Mother's Bistro & Bar in Portland, Ore., recently tucked 150 of her favorite recipes into a new cookbook, "Mother's Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again" (Taunton Press, $28).
Anna Last, editor of "Everyday Food," the magazine that strives to make it doable to cook dinner any night of the week, said we need to ditch the notion that it's OK to sit in front of the TV, shoveling in food.
"It's about breaking a habit," she said. "I don't know why every day can't be a celebration. Or an everyday inspiration."
- Reclaiming Family Dinners, Barbara Mahany for Tribune Newspapers