It’s Monday morning. The tattooed meter man is walking up the path to my front door. I go down to let him in. No matter the weather, he is always cheerful and polite. He walks in, wipes his feet and says, “Gee, something smells good.” The aroma of last night’s roasted chicken still lingers in the house. I follow him as he makes his way downstairs. He knows the way.
“It reminds me of my Grandmother’s house,” he continues. “It always smelled like cooking. Her English wasn’t too good….she was from Italy….. but she sure could cook.”
I see the wedding ring on his finger and ask a question to which I already know the answer. “Is your wife a good cook?”
He gives a hearty laugh and says, “My wife thinks a home cooked meal comes from a package she nukes in the microwave, cuts open and dumps on the plate.” Obviously feeling a bit guilty at having said that, he quickly adds, “But, you know, she’s busy. She works, too. Can’t live on take-out.”
And that is not a guess.
The young woman who can cook or has any desire to do so today is rare indeed.
Of course, when it comes time for her to buy her first house, she wants nothing less than a state-of-the-art kitchen with professional grade appliances, which she will never use, except for the microwave.
I thought I had heard every excuse imaginable for not cooking (don’t know how, no time, no interest, hate the clean-up), until one night while watching the Food network I heard this little gem. A young woman was planning a brunch with her caterer. She told her caterer that her kitchen was off limits. The caterer was to prepare all food off site because, she said firmly, “I don’t want my house to smell like food.” Huh??
The concept of mealtime and everything it entails no longer exists for them. They no longer know when, how or what to eat, so they eat whatever whenever and wherever they are at all hours of the day and night.
The American relationship with food has become largely dysfunctional and the results are painfully obvious.
Sadly, not only has this dysfunctional relationship had a deleterious effect on our health, but on our ability to interact successfully on a social level. The family dinner table was not just a place where children traditionally learned table manners, but where they began the process of learning how to interact socially.
The family dinner is, for me, the perfect teachable moment for a young child.
Other than how to use a knife and fork properly, here is what I learned at the family dinner table as a child.
Don’t put your elbows on the table;
Don’t chew with your mouth open;
Don’t shovel food into your mouth;
Don’t talk with food in your mouth;
Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking;
Think before you speak;
Don’t slouch; and
All children start out as little hedonistic savages. It’s up to parents to civilize them for their own good and for that of society. Why not make family dinner a teachable moment for your child?
After all, the first thing Annie Sullivan taught her unruly charge, Helen Keller, was how to sit at table and use a fork.