The scene is so well known to the point of becoming almost cliché: a family gathers around a dinner table after a long day of school or work to share with one another the ordeals of their day. Countless postcards, movies, and other forms of media have idealized the image and supposed value behind the family dinner table. But what is it that makes the idea of the family gathering around a table to share a meal so special?
In today´s fast-paced and individual-centered world, it is increasingly rare to see a family actually sit down to share a meal together. Breakfast is hurried, if eaten at all, as each member of the family hurries off to his or her task for the day. Lunch may be shared with co-workers or classmates, but rarely with family. By dinnertime, most people are so exhausted that each member of the family grabs their meal and eats alone in front of a TV or computer screen. Even at restaurants, it´s common to see a family eating “together” while each individual member spends more time staring at their phones than looking at who is actually sitting in front of them.
A typical family in the United States today spends more money on fast food than on groceries, and this is telling. Fast food is almost always eaten alone in a car or office in order to get back to the important business at hand. Groceries are bought in order to cook and cooking implies time. When we spend time preparing our meals, we usually want to share them with someone, preferably our families.
But why is it important to eat together as a family? For one, meal time may be one of the only times that families have to actually be together as a whole. The hectic pace of modern times often keep families separated. Making the decision to eat at least one meal a day as a family is a good way to make it a priority to actually be together as a family.
Secondly, eating together as a family forces the family to slow down and actually consider what we´re putting into our bodies. By taking the time to not only eat together, but also cook together, families can learn that meals actually come from ingredients, and ingredients come from food that comes from the soil. Though it may sound childish to remind ourselves of these obvious facts, the reality is that our current food system creates so much distance between what we eat and where it comes from that preparing a meal together can bring our attention to a fact that we all should know.
Lastly, eating together at the family dinner table can serve as a reminder of our need to be present to one another. It can be a space that enables us to come out of our own little worlds in order to listen to others and understand our belonging in a membership greater than just ourselves.