At the Plate

Dude can write: from G. Murphy Donovan:

The dinner time family meal is important to forming culture.

There are four clear threats to the modern family and possibly civilization at large; cell phones, video games, the internet, and junk food. We allow the first three because they are cheaper than tutors, private schools, and nannies. Indeed, games and gadgets support a kind of electronic autism where neither parent nor child speaks to each other until the latter is old enough to drive. With junk food the threat is more complicated; a fusion of chemistry and culture. In combination, internet social networks and poor diets seem to be conspiring to produce a generation of pudgy, lazy mutes with short attention spans.

Culture begins and ends on a plate. A proper wake is followed by good food and drink for good reason; a testament to life even without the guest of honor. We eat to live and then we live to eat. From the earliest times, food played a key role in the spiritual and literal growth of families and a larger society. An infant bonds with its mother while nursing; families bond when they share food. We define hospitality with friends by inviting them to break bread – or share a refreshing adult beverage. Alas, eating plays a central role in both civility and civilization….

There are probably a dozen or more reasons why we believe we can not cook for, or eat with, our families. Yet, none of the excuses are as persuasive as the common sense for dining at home: economy, health, and education….

The penultimate virtue of cooking and dining at home is education. Yes, education; not just about food and nutrition, but education about everything else under the sun. Parents are the first and best primary teachers. Some formal schooling might be necessary for a diploma or a credential, but those critical early years are only a job for the deuce that produced.

All learning begins with the process of separating wants from needs – moving from me to thee. With this, all kids need help; that’s why we call them children. True home schooling might be something simple as an hour at the market, an afternoon in the garden, and a meal together, once or twice a day.

By the time kids reach their teens, all that parents have left is influence once or twice removed. If those early opportunities are missed, we waste our lives and damage theirs. Kitchen and dinner tables are the earliest and best school desks to educate and socialize children. If we’re too busy for this, we have to ask ourselves; what’s more important? If parents have no answers, those ‘at risk’ monsters should not be a surprise. ‘At risk’ kids are surely the sons and daughters of clueless and neglect.

Every parent assumes that a child might learn to behave from good example, but few consider that kids are just as likely to be influenced by poor role models – at home.

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  • Challenging and a bit over-bearing, but essentially correct. Nothing pressed this home (literally!) quite so much as Andy Crouch’s Culture Making.

  • Yes, yes, YES! Recently faced with the necessity of major diet changes, it’s tempting to eliminate the family mealtime so that all could eat according to his/her needs. But, we’ve stood firm, believing this is one of the most important things our family has done well over the years. Just this morning, we eliminated the iPod from the migratory breakfast routines and had a significant conversation in this vein. The kitchen table is the desk in the classroom of life, I’m convinced. Thanks!

  • I agree that having a meal together as a family is important for many reasons. However I am not a big proponent to calling technology the evil behind all our problems. As a parent of a seven month old I know if fifteen years we will be so much more advanced than we are now. That leaves me with the practical sense to learn how to navigate using the technology to connect with my son rather than to avoid it or call it “bad”.

    The essay is a little extreme but I appreciate the importance of eating a meal together.

  • Chris

    Thought it was great. I’ve been considering my media intake lately, and this helped convince me further that my priority of consuming info via technology needs to tone down a lot in favor of more interaction with my 4 & 5 year olds. Thanks for posting.

  • Paul Mast Hewitt

    As someone who has worked with “at risk” children and their families, I find the tone harsh. While I agree in the value of family meal times, and the need to control our digital intake, especially as it interferes with our time together, blaming the parents for their child being “at risk” may not be the way to make a change. All of the parents I know are trying to do their best and want the best for their children. Empowering them with the skills and knowledge they need to do better is much more effective than blaming.

  • G. Murphy Donovan

    Who should we blame, the child? Of course not! No one is to blame in a no- fault society. If adults “did their best,” their would be no ‘at risk’ kids. A child is a terrible thing to waste, especially where adult selfishness is the culprit.

  • G. Murphy Donovan

    “Kitchen table is the desk in the classroom of life!” Indeed, madam. Wish I had said that. Thanks.