[Reader-list] Why hectic times call for a return to the family meal

Ujwala Samarth ujwalasam at gmail.com
Mon Nov 29 16:32:50 IST 2010

While agreeing on the need to encourage family interaction and family meals
-- which means the angry as well as well as the loving interactions -- I
would like to point out that family dinners can be sources of immense
tension when there is at least one strongly 'patriarchal' authority figure.
Then, what  ought to be a relaxed meal becomes a venue for being belittled
because you couldn't answer the random maths  question thrown at you (a
favourite of Indian fathers of my generation -- now I hear they throw random
GK questions a la Discovery Channel ), didn't wear the right clothes or comb
your hair in the right way, you are forced to eat things you'd rather not in
a way you'd rather not and often in an order you can't even choose for
yourself. So sometimes, being able to escape with your plate to your room or
to the TV or to the garden, is far healthier for the child. While
encouraging family interactions, let's remember that many Indian adults need
to be taught how to interact respectfully with children and not see the
family meal as yet another showcase for imposing their authority. A meal
eaten in peaceful isolation, I think, is better than forced and tense


On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 12:35 PM, Chintan Girish Modi <
chintan.backups at gmail.com> wrote:

> From
> http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/what-happy-families-know/you-are-who-you-eat-with?utm_source=nov10&utm_medium=yesemail&utm_campaign=titleWhoYouEatWith
> *You Are Who You Eat With*
> By Katherine Gustafson
> When the 10 Garcia-Prats boys got together every night for dinner, they
> shared more than food around the table. They talked about the successes and
> frustrations of their days. The older boys helped the younger ones cut
> their
> meat. They compared their picks for the World Cup, a conversation that
> turned into an impromptu geography lesson.
> Their mother, Cathy, author of *Good Families Don’t Just Happen: What We
> Learned from Raising Our Ten Sons and How It Can Work for
> You*<http://www.powells.com/partner/23116/biblio/0976329409>,
> strove to make the dinner table warm and welcoming, a place where her boys
> would want to linger. “Our philosophy is that dinnertime is not just a time
> to feed your body; it’s a time to feed your mind and your soul,” she told
> me
> over the phone from her Houston, Texas, home. “It lets us have an
> opportunity to share our day, be part of each others’ lives.”
> Today, families like the Garcia-Prats are the exception. According the 2007
> National Survey of Children’s Health, fewer than half of Americans eat
> meals
> daily with their families, a statistic that highlights the breakneck pace
> at
> which we live and our grab-and-go food culture. Increasing economic
> pressures only exacerbate these cultural trends, as many families are
> forced
> to work two jobs to afford the basics and have little time to slow down and
> have dinner.
> But the deterioration of the family meal may be more damaging than we
> realize. “Our lives have gotten so hectic and so busy that if you don’t set
> aside time as a family, I think you just get lost,” said Garcia-Prats.
> “Then
> you’re just individuals living in a building, instead of a family living in
> a home, supporting each other and being there for each other.”
> Dinner and Happiness
> When food advocate and chef Tom French asked a student how she felt after
> his organization, the Experience Food Project, began replacing the bland,
> processed food in her school cafeteria with fresh, healthy school lunches,
> he received an unexpected answer.
> “She gave it some serious thought,” he told me over the phone. “Then she
> said, ‘you know, I feel respected.’”
> Moments like this make French believe that adults who prepare quality meals
> for children are offering something more important than a nutrition lesson:
> They are communicating that they care. This is why the Experience Food
> Project teaches PTA parents about the importance of prioritizing family
> meals and helps them schedule the logistics of dinnertime.
> French says there are “mountains of statistical data” correlating family
> dinner with benefits such as better communication, higher academic
> performance, and improved eating habits. Having dinner together boosts
> family cohesiveness and is associated with children’s motivation in school,
> positive outlook, and avoidance of high-risk behaviors. Teens who
> frequently
> eat with their families are half as likely to smoke or use pot than those
> who rarely have family dinners, according to researchers at The National
> Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).
> The correlation between family dinner and well-adjusted teens is so strong
> that CASA launched the first Family Day on September 27, an annual event
> honoring the family meal. The day recognizes that “parental engagement
> fostered during frequent family dinners is an effective tool to help keep
> America’s kids substance free.”
> President Obama officially proclaimed Family Day 2010, noting that it
> served
> as an opportunity to “recommit to creating a solid foundation for the
> future
> health and happiness of all our nation’s children.”
> Communities from all over the country held Family Day celebrations, and
> some
> made the event into a week-long affair. Families found creative ways to
> celebrate each others’ company over food—putting together homemade pizzas,
> picnicking, doing activities from CASA’s Family Dinner Kit, and eating at
> restaurants offering discounts for the occasion.
> Such events draw attention to the ways in which meals together help
> families
> strengthen their relationships, according to Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA
> Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and
> Welfare. “The more often teens have dinner with their parents, the more
> likely they are to report talking to their parents about what’s going on in
> their lives,” said Califano in a statement to press. “In today’s busy and
> overscheduled world, taking the time to come together for dinner really
> makes a difference in a child’s life.”
> Family dinner also encourages the development of language skills and
> emotional intelligence in children. During dinner conversations, children
> learn how to articulate their feelings and experiences and to communicate
> respect—whether that means asking politely for a dish or talking about
> their
> day at school. Research shows that children who have acquired skills in
> identifying and expressing emotion and negotiating conflict often
> experience
> less distress, have fewer behavior problems, hold more positive attitudes
> about school, and exhibit better academic performance.
> Fusion Cuisine
> Finding ways to connect is increasingly important as families become more
> diverse and must negotiate cultural and generational difference. “People
> are
> tired and they are working and they are blending cultures and blending
> generations,” said French, who grew up in a household with his
> great-grandmother.
> Families of all types benefit from sharing life’s daily ups and downs
> around
> the table. In a 2010 study of a group of racially diverse, low-income,
> urban
> youth, kids who ate family dinner more frequently had more positive
> perceptions of their communication with their parents. Extended and blended
> families may find that dinner solidifies fledgling or fragile bonds. And
> families that unite multiple cultures can make the sharing of specific
> traditions and dishes—which, as French puts it, “carry generations of
> cultural DNA”—into a centerpiece of family bonding.
> As Garcia-Prats sees it, dinner is a time when families can celebrate their
> differences. “We learn diversity appreciation in our homes,” she said.
> “It’s
> going to be hard to appreciate someone else’s religion or ethnicity or
> culture if we haven’t even learned to appreciate the uniqueness of each
> person in our own family. It’s one of our philosophies: We are 12 unique
> individuals in this home.”
> At dinner, we bridge the gaps between us by sharing our food and the
> stories
> of our lives. And the moments we spend together at the table form the basis
> of something remarkably profound. Call it what you will—sibling bonding,
> communicating respect, bridging cultures—but at the very least it is, as
> Garcia-Prats told me, ”not just about food.” It is about the way food can
> connect us.
> --
> Katherine Gustafson wrote this article for *What Happy Families
> Know*<
> http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/what-happy-families-know/what-happy-families-know
> >,
> the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Katherine is a freelance writer and
> editor with a background in international nonprofit organizations. She is
> currently writing a book about sustainable food.
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Ujwala Samarth
(Programme Coordinator, Open Space)


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