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

Chintan Girish Modi chintan.backups at gmail.com
Mon Nov 29 22:20:20 IST 2010

Dear Ujwala

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

You're quite right.


On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM, Ujwala Samarth <ujwalasam at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> 'togetherness'
> Ujwala
> 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)
> www.openspaceindia.org
> www.infochangeindia.org
> http://www.facebook.com/pages/Open-Space/116557125037041
> B-301, Kanchanjunga Building,
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