The Way We Eat

A prompt on Modern Families got me to thinking. 

“If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?” 

How would you answer? Here’s my shot at the question. 

Well…for starters, most folks don’t join each other for dinner anymore.

My grandparents and parents honored a long-standing family tradition.  They ate dinner around the dining room table. ALL of them. At the same time. In the same place.

But we didn’t just eat together. We lingered together. We served each other. We passed the food in large bowls – mashed potatoes, green beans, peas, stuffing, salad – family style. No one ate until all had been served.

In their generations, the roles were clearly defined. Mom wore and apron and cooked the meal. She sat at one end of the table. Dad, sitting  at the opposite end (the head of the table) with the carving knife served the entree on plates to the other members of the family. If it was a turkey, for instance, he carved the bird in front of us at the table.

“Skip, you like dark meat.” He’d carve from the thigh or the leg. “Don, you like both white and dark.” “Bob, you like the leg and a wing.” And so it went, until we all had been served according to our liking, and we all had served each other.

Mom and Dad lived long enough to see the change in their children’s family eating habits and graciously, if sadly, accepted the fact that there was no longer a set time for dinner, there were soccer games, Little League games, concerts, and the demands of this, that, and the other that tore apart the cherished hour when the kids and parents all checked in on the day and discussed the big issues of the news.

My grandparents would be shocked by the fraying of common life, the loss of careful attentiveness to each member of the family’s preferences, likes and dislikes, the substitution of the automat for the dining room table.

If they came back from the dead, they would wonder how and why sharing and serving around the table and nightly dinner conversations have vanished, replaced by family members staring at their iPhones, texting people who aren’t in the room. They might re-frame Shakespeare’s question in Hamlet, “To be, or not to be?” They might say:

“To eat alone, quickly, or to eat at the dinner table with others, slowly?” – that is the question.

I think I’ll turn on the TV, go to the fridge to see what’s there, send a text or two, and enjoy the ballgame.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 18, 2016


2 thoughts on “The Way We Eat

  1. I think we all tend to become a bit nostalgic around the holidays, so it was no surprise that I’ve been thinking about my in-laws quite a bit these past few weeks. It’s been more than twenty years, but I still miss those conversations around their dining room table … where they made it clear that grandchildren can do no wrong, and that the adults in the room each had an equal opportunity to share whatever it was that they felt like bringing into the conversation. They are surely missed, and I can’t imagine they’d be too pleased that our dining room table hasn’t had a proper meal shared around it for entirely too long.

    Still, when I think of them, I smile. Always. 🙂


    • I miss mine, too. Also the personal care for the individuals and the thoughtful discussions that were always part of dinner. My Dad wanted to hear from us what we thought of whatever was happening in the news. It didn’t matter what our views were so much as that they be thoughtful and well-informed. The quality of public life was part of what our private life was about. We didn’t realize it, I’m sure, at the time, but it was the place where I was taught critical thinking. I know it’s a trip down nostalgia that forgets the gains we’ve made since then, but there are some things – like eating alone, grabbing what I want instead of sharing – that feel more like regression than progress. Don’t ya think?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s