Life Around the Dinner Table

Gracie Cavnar
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Viv tackles a Turkey dinner.jpgNovember hosts America's most high profile meal, forever fixed in our mind's eye by Norman Rockwell, who used the Thanksgiving table to showcase his idea of a traditional family dinner. But contrary to national myth, our treasured Thanksgiving holiday wasn't handed down from the Pilgrims. It was a post-civil war effort of Abraham Lincoln's to promote national unity. Shared meals have that kind of power, not only to heal a nation, but also to build community and strengthen family ties.

Every one of us harbors powerful memories of family food traditions that are woven tightly into defining who we are as individuals and as part of our tribe. A look at the history of mealtime illuminates our progression from hunter-gatherers to agrarian life to workers in the industrial revolution to our present fast-paced, tech filled lives. As the way we secure food has changed, naturally so has the way we consume it. 10,000 years ago, killing a wild deer meant the entire community had to prepare and eat it together, or it went to waste, so shared meals were tied to our very survival. Now that we have so many choices for how we source our food--ranging from growing it ourselves to finding it on grocery shelves and in the drive-through, packaged in single servings--sharing is no longer mandatory, and sadly it's a tradition that many Americans have left behind. Not me!

I am sad to see meals demoted to something eaten on the run, jammed in between other activities. A lot has been lost along the way: conversation, communal tasks, leisurely consumption, and each of those missed opportunities has left a trail of unintended results. Researchers tell us that children who eat at least one home-prepared meal a day, while sitting around a table with their family, are less likely to have drug issues, tend to do better in school and are generally healthier.  At Recipe for Success Foundation, our students sit down to eat together after preparing food. Along the way, they learn sharing, teamwork and a little etiquette. Seems like a good enough reason for all of us to get back around a table for dinner.

My family's meal traditions are woven into my soul. Each memory makes me smile and salivate. I've passed many down to my own kids and grandkids: pulling them into the kitchen as soon as they could stand; teaching them to set the table and share their stories; picking dinner ingredients from the garden; preparing dishes their great grandmothers made alongside newer ones. At dinner is where we continue to bond through the generations with no topic of conversation off the table. It doesn't take a holiday like Thanksgiving to get my family to sit down for a lively meal together, but if you haven't tried, it's a good place to start.

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This page contains a single entry by Gracie Cavnar published on November 1, 2015 11:42 AM.

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