A feminist’s fear of the Family Meal

As a child I always hated The Family Meal. Too many arbitrary rules and too much meat. I’d throw pieces of food under the table, thinking no one noticed, then watch as my brother got pudding while mine was withheld due to the scraps discovered around my chair.

Years later, anorexic, I avoided family meals altogether. I’d hide away with my homework while others ate, finally defrosting Lean Cuisine in the microwave at 10pm. It would take me an hour to eat the half-portion I dished out, then I’d retire to bed, barely having spoken to anyone.

Strangely, this ritual only seems sad now, when I position myself as an outsider. I wasn’t that unhappy at the time. After all, it was the one point in the day at which I was getting to eat. Have tea any earlier, and I’d lose all control, or so I thought. I didn’t consider the loneliness of my family, faced with the empty space at the table. What would have been the point? Sticking to my own rules felt such a necessity that nothing else mattered.

I suppose there are plenty of ways in which you can interpret what was going on back then. The devious anorexic manipulates her family, spitefully subverting the rules of communal dining. The family outcast expresses her isolation by literally withdrawing from the sharing of food. The victimised daughter is silently terrorised out of taking her place at the table. As ever with attempts to interpret anorexic behaviour, none of it quite fits. The external manifestations create pretty metaphors but don’t tell the story, which is far more confused: control, social pressure, yes, but also sheer physical hunger and all the extreme things it can make you do.

Today I am able to enjoy food with my parents, my partner, my brother and my children. I look back on the anorexic years – years in which it’s always winter and it’s always dark – in horror. I couldn’t bear it if my child did that to me, and yet I know it wouldn’t be an act of aggression. It might not even be anything to do with me, but such is the power of food and feeding that I’d feel that it was.

According to smug-tastic food writer Michael Pollan, the family meal is “the nursery of democracy”:

It’s where we teach our children the manners they need to get along in society. We teach them how to share. To take turns. To argue without fighting and insulting other people. They learn the art of adult conversation.

So maybe I missed out. Maybe I never learned. But I have to say, if a family meal is all that, no wonder it’s so bloody stressful. No wonder some people might find ways to hide. Sometimes “the manners we need to get along in society” are little more than oppressive, petty compromises. I am scared of the family meal and what it stands for – even though I want to eat and to share with those I love.

We have family meals most evenings but they’re not the Family Meals I remember from childhood. The three or four of us – depending on whether Daddy is back from work – gather round the table to consume whatever it is Mummy has been able to warm up over the course of one episode of Peppa Pig (for elaborate fare, it’ll be Tree Fu Tom). My youngest will nibble a few mouthfuls before embarking on his usual series of attention-seeking toilet visits (starting with pretend wees and culminating in “Mummy, I NEED you to WIPE MY BOTTOM!” mid-dessert). Meanwhile, my eldest will clean his plate, all the while hopping on and off his chair, despite repeated requests for him to sit still. Inevitably, Eldest will make himself feel sick and require quiet, post-meal “recovery time” . By this time his brother will be emptying the fridge, hunting for random morsels – slices of ham, pieces of cheese – to make up for the fact that he’s spent most of the actual mealtime in the bathroom. Suffice it to say, a family meal chez nous is not a fucking Bisto advert. But who cares? It’s only food. And it’s still time spent together, more or less.

Alas, it’s not good enough for some.

Whenever I read about the importance of Family Meals – whether it’s in twee “Our Family Night” advertising campaigns or in foodie idealisations of a pre-feminist past – I worry. There seems to be so much misremembering, so much wilful distortion, so much indulgence of middle-class white bread stereotypes. Are family meals a genuine coming together of equals or a ritual that honours the patriarch? Do they really take “just a little effort” to achieve, especially when money is tight and shift patterns are unreliable? Is it still a family meal if one parent isn’t present? What about no parent present? Does the food have to be cooked from scratch? How “processed” is “too processed”? In short, how many ways can a family – and more specifically, a mother – still be considered a failure for not serving the evening meal correctly?

The sexism in all this seems to me pretty obvious. Pollan has already claimed some feminists “trampled over” the appreciation of good cooking “in their rush to get women out of the kitchen”. He denies that his views are regressive, claiming to have “come to think cooking is too important to be left to any one gender or member of the family” (one presumes that if cooking was irrelevant, the ladies could have it to themselves). One foodie website argues that “many of the superstars in the food movement are males: Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver come to mind immediately”, but surely this in itself is a problem. Wealthy white males are advising us on how to eat and drink in a culturally acceptable, morally pure way – yet a prerequisite for this has to be for them to examine their own privilege. Pontificating over what one should do in an ideal world is not enough. Right here, right now, domestic politics – questions not just about who does the work, but about who might dominate physically, emotionally and financially – shape what goes on at the dinner table. To ignore this seems to me at best naïve, and at worst entitled and uncaring.

I do care about what my children eat and the ethics of how it was produced. Tonight we ate spag bol out of a tin but we’re growing our own cucumbers. Hey, we’re trying. Eventually – especially if we get more time, which essentially means more money – we’ll do better. But in the meantime I wish this moralizing would stop. It’s enough to make anyone want to retreat into microwave meals alone.

68 thoughts on “A feminist’s fear of the Family Meal

  1. Family dinners were always a fight between my dad and mum and he treated her terribly. I associated being force fed with domestic abuse and by the time I was 10 was anorexic. Eating was not a happy time in our household. I do not wonder that it contributed to my ED. How could it not?

  2. The insight into your reaction to a family meal is really interesting, must have been pretty tough to eat as a group. My experience is completely different (although mealtimes meant arguing with siblings mainly, but the food was worth it!) I’m a great believer in eating together, not because we’re all sitting perfectly at a dinner table eating home cooked food, but because I love sharing food and chat with people. “breaking bread” with them, strangers included. It could be a cup of tea on someone’s front step.Food and drink are a great excuse to bring people together, even if they don’t want much. Well in my world anyway. If I ever get around to posting the Germany piece, you’ll.see it’s mainly about hospitality.

    1. Agreed. It isn’t the food that makes a family meal special and more than it is who cooks it. My husband and I cook equally, just depends on who had a stressful day, who feels like it, or what’s available. My siblings mostly share with spouses and kids recently as well. I’t just a family time. The preparation is even communication, even open a can and heat. but we talk in the kitchen and over food, coffee, tea. We always did and it continued as I grew up. I remember some horribly stressful dinnertime as a kid and it could be very patriarchal and dictatorial but it was still a time for everyone to share and be accepted. Visitors were common at my parent’s table and conversation was plentiful. We were ridiculously broke but enjoyed and shared what we had. I remember watching guests staring at our family in awe of the constant 15 conversation madhouse and motion machine, but they always came back and looked for opportunity to share. The force feeding and fights were not what shaped our views, it was the sharing, conversation, hospitality, learning, and a place felt a part of or surrounded by. I still love sharing food and coffee, it is my favorite morning ritual with my husband – coffee and conversation. Just conversation, no purpose, plan, stress, or direction.

  3. The women’s lib movement excuse, is just an excuse for the Capitalistic Governments to assert their control over our households. The family meal is what YOU make it to be, not what is “right” or “required” to have a family meal. The commercials will have you believe that men can’t cook and women are super multitasking executive chef extraordinaires, that never gain a pound and spend all day working with narry a hair out of place, but that is not the case. That, ultimately, is the illusion of western world and culture. It is up to the individual and family to create its own traditions of Family meals. Why should your one family meal be the evening? If Daddy gets home late, have it early. If he works out of town, have it bi weekly.. And vice versa, if the mother works odd hours or travels for her job. Fear is the opposite of trust. What you fear, you fear within yourself. Embrace the wonderfulness of YOU as an individual and your unique contribution to world around you. Be proud of being together sharing sprag bol out of a tin, instill in your children the importance of spending this moment with them, laugh, and enjoy your family.

    1. Well, this is a superb comment, must say. There are many variants of the family – including in recent history. The western world is important, because culturally there are great differences. Sexist..well, a buzz word, I would also say the endless commercials about incompetent commercials qualify for that word here. Very interesting post!

  4. My family have never had ‘family meals’ in the traditional sense. We didn’t even have a dining table until I was in my late teens. And by then we were so used to how things had always been done, we didn’t use it for family meals anyway.
    I also like to think I managed to muddle through and learn manners and conversation somehow, even without that apparently necessary training. But who knows, maybe I am wildly uncivilised, and everybody’s just too polite to point it out to me.

    1. Lol, we never sat at the table either when I was young. The table is where we put our backpacks and crap so it wasn’t all over the floor. My wife and I generally try to eat dinner at the table now with our kids, but to call it a place of learning would be hilarious. The 90 pound dog is under the table sharking for scraps from the kids, I’m cursing at the dog to get her fat ass out from under the table, the 4 year old is back and forth from the bathroom and is farting or laughing at his farts while not eating his food when he’s actually at the table, and meanwhile the 2 year old screams like a banshee during the whole meal because he’s tired from not napping at the sitters and also because he’s a bit of a douche. My oldest daughter eat likes a champ though, so there’s that.

  5. Just for the sake of sharing a happy family meal experience, when my parents got divorced my Dad made us sit down at the table for dinner whenever we were at his house and while at first it was scary and new and I (five at the time) always seemed to get into trouble, it did become something I looked forward to. We had a lot of laughs over dinner and some serious conversations as well. I am sorry for anyone who had a bad experience and I’m certain if my Dad had implemented the sit down rule before the divorce I would have associated it with fear and verbal abuse. Fortunately for me and my siblings, he did not.

    1. My mother was very sick when I was a kid so setting things up often fell to the kids under her supervision. She would explain each thing if she felt good enough and wanted us to understand the purpose behind a proper place setting and other meal rituals. I still will set a proper place setting and go through the complete “ritual” and that is just what it is, when I need the focus and relaxation in life. The difference in eating at a table and in our laps always struck a chord with me not based on etiquette but in the gathering together without an outside focus and distraction like television. We were all facing each other and sharing a table.
      My mother wanted us to learn the details not so we would follow the traditional rules but so we would understand the purpose when we had our own houses and know why we wanted meals done one way or another. No outside distractions were permitted at the table, other than we did recite verses each week as part of our education. But her purpose was to focus the family on just being together, whatever the direction or impact that day.

  6. Hmmm… I’m not sure I’m convinced of what the expectations surrounding the family meal has with feminism. I expected this correlation to be made because you immediately identify yourself as a feminist in the title and against the family meal. Yes, the societal expectations surrounding women and cooking is obvious and spoken about but your piece I felt only touched on that problematic relationship. I also wanted to hear more about the family meal apart from the cooking aspect you touched on, which were interesting to me. I wanted you to really drive the point home that the family meal is potentially damaging to a woman’s livelihood, unlike how it is for men, in a significant way. I liked your piece, but I must admit I can’t say I understood it completely! I hope this critique was helpful at all…:)

    1. Interesting – I might add that the man who is forced to come home late and therefore is unable to participate socially in meal prep or other activities is also at a disadvantage

  7. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Pollan’s take on “feminists vs. food” really annoys me, as I write about the subjects frequently as a feminist food blogger. I really enjoyed your piece–reminded me of all the awkward things my sister and I did during “family meals” when we were kids–and thank you for calling out mansplaining of how to eat.

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  9. I just wrote about Michael Pollan and the “art” of food-making today, and I am sympathetic to your perspective. I do think the moralizing is misplaced. In most households, we have a dearth of time and the picture of the family meal is false idealization.

    I am also concerned about the implications of a society that looks to superstars on TV to provide the masses with a sense of pleasure regarding food production. Especially with concern over food quality and inspection, I try to claim food preparation as a personal art. This is what value I see in Pollan’s work.

    Good luck with your cucumbers!

  10. And in my family, the family meal was a nightmare …..Dad emotionally beating all of us. I can only say that as he mellowed when he was older…he apologized to all of us for being an ass. It is better with his kids and grand kids. As a single mom, I had ” fend for yourself Friday.” We loved it…

  11. Unique perspective and well done. I miss and adore family meals. I think you may have missed out on something, such as, credit where credit was due. In other words there were rewards such as who grew this, who cooked that, and my mom was always great about it. It was all about contribution and enjoyment and credit. My mother always gave credit and would point out who did what as a point of pride and sharing credit. Dinners could get rocky that’s for sure. But my family is Irish/Italian. There’s bound to be passion. You are doing fine (not that it’s up to me to judge) and I am really good cook but some days I crave or want a microwave dinner and sometimes I confess to my husband, “I want junk food! I don’t want to cook tonight.” My husband had balanced the situation in roles.

  12. Family meals don’t have to be made from scratch. The idealized version is just that, idealized. To my family, “family meal” means that whoever is at home at dinnertime eats together. What we eat isn’t so important. It can be frozen fish or pizza cooked in the oven, last night’s leftovers, or soup from a can.

  13. Thank you for writing this. As a mom who’s struggled with some of the same things, this really resonated with me. Who is Pollan to try to define the family meal anyhow?
    We’ve had family meals that were a different kind of processed or quick food for each of us and not-family meals where everyone ate the same carefully prepared, from-scratch stuff and honestly, it’s just food. No Big Deal. The important stuff is that everyone eats enough to be healthy and that we spend enough time together to feel loved.

  14. I hadn’t ever seen family meals as a thing to fear, for us it was the only time my family saw each other — we were all so busy. Now, it’s the same. I enjoy cooking because I control whe, what, and if I want to cook. If I don’t, DH can cook or scavenge for leftovers. I guess I can see the “moralizing”, but for us it’s the best time to catch up. (we eat late, think 10 pm or later so DH and I can talk, but it may change when dd gets older)

  15. The family meal is like Christmas – there are huge expectations for it to be a certain way. Sometimes it’s lovely and others a meltdown. We need to relax our expectations I think. Great post.

  16. Family meal times at our place are difficult too. Our 3 year old will not eat anything we make her. Ever! I love to sit and enjoy dinner with my extended family though – wine, food and conversation! Thanks for such a fantastic post.

  17. Your entire argument against the family meal seems to be based on your own past experiences and the opinions of a privileged male. The past does not have to dictate our future, and the only opinion that matters is yours. As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing, go for it!

    That said, as a white male who enjoys cooking, I don’t claim to fully understand or appreciate your post, but congrats on being Pressed nonetheless!

  18. Interesting article, but I’m going to have to disagree with you about the white, male stereotype of celebrities in the food movement – it’s a mixed back both racially and gender wise, When I think of the top celebrity chefs in the UK I think of Nigella Lawson, Delia (the GODDESS!), Jamie Oliver, Ken Homm, Ainsley Harriott, Madhur Jeffrey.

  19. I dreaded eating family meals when I was younger; I was forced to “talk” about my day. Even now I’ll get anxious for family get -togethers.

  20. I enjoyed family meals. As a child we always ate together. I have instilled this practice with my own children. today is more important than ever to have family meals even once a week. We are all so busy and we eat on the run, rarely a cooked meal. With so many other distraction there is never enough time to get to know your family and friends. I have introduced to talk about a low and a high point of the day to my grandchildren. It is a non threatening way of talking about the day, the children like to go around the table and share what happened to them.

  21. I’ve always hated family meals too, mostly because they bring back memories of those 10 years of eating Hamburger Helper and cheap chocolate ice cream. “Supper” was always too late, too hot, and too watery. Thankfully that’s over now, but I’m 25 and still living at home eating Mom and Dad’s food. Topics of conversation include hydraulics, photography, and what everybody did wrong in the last 10-20 years. Awkward, no? That’s why I take the p.m. shift at work and eat canned trash at the speed of light while popping up every so often to help people at the desk. It’s not delicious, but it’s early, silent, and thick.

  22. Funny, at “family meals” my parents fight like hell (or my father, for no good reason, gives us all the silent treatment), and my brothers glower at each other, losing themselves in hopelessness, and I talk too fast and too much to try to cover, and then I bolt as fast as I can and hide out in my room.

    It’s easier to eat at my computer, alone, in my apartment, with whatever the hell I’ve scrounged up.

  23. I watch the Foxtel food station, usually and for the obvious reasons after I’ve eaten. I’ve noticed that there are as many women as there are men hosting cooking shows; I’ve noticed shops that sell kitchen utensils are flourishing and men shoppers who speak knowledgeably about said utensils; I’ve noticed that my sons are great cooks and take turns making the meals. Men aren’t necessarily the primary providers these days and women are no longer stuck in the kitchen cooking the meals unless they want to be.
    Can I say (and I hope I’m not sounding rude, I don’t mean to be) that you are carrying a lot of baggage. There’s your own childhood experiences and there’s what’s going on now in your own family unit. Perhaps the former is affecting how you see things, but I can really only comment on the latter. Parenting is a hard job and mealtimes are a nightmare for all concerned for the first few years. Don’t stress it. Every phase comes to an end sooner or later if you let it. Hold on and good luck.:)

  24. So much to comment upon here, including the increasing dichotomy between cooking as a hobby/privilege vs. the scraping together of meals for a family crunched for time and money.

    Somewhere, somehow, amidst all the chaos, I have to believe what the research says: that making an effort to sit down together to share food as a family on a regular basis is protective. Maybe it’s that families who are able to do that are already off to a better start?

  25. I don’t really remember family meal times, we usually didn’t have a table but during me teenage years, my father was ill with cancer and so wasn’t present at the table when we had one. I do remember my mum and dad arguing about whether I should be in the kitchen helping my mother cook, it was my dad who argued that I shouldn’t, and he usually won. So I didn’t learn to cook until Uni and still learning. We were poor, as was our diet and its only now, as I’m on maternity leave, I have the time to cook a home cooked healthy meal.
    We don’t always sit at the table but I find that if we do, I feel a sense of achievement as my little girl thanks me and as does my partner. Otherwise it’s knee on laps and staring at the TV.
    I incorporate my little girl setting the table and clearing her plate into her chores. She seems to think its my job to do everything. It’s the only time of the day we all sit and talk to eachother as I’m usually busy feeding the baby, changing the baby….blogging. I can quite happily sit, blog, eat and breastfeeding my child at the same time, on the couch.

    So during our family meals at the table, I actually feel more in control. I’ve made the meal, I’m providing my family with the best nutrition, I’m teaching my daughter socially acceptable eating rules. No the converstion isn’t always great, it can be a little but awkward, especially when she wants to sit next to her dad at every sitting and not me.

  26. First, let me say I enjoyed reading your viewpoint about family meals..However I don’t feel it has anything to do with being a feminist. Or maybe there just wasn’t enough in your write ..to link your feminism to it. I’m a proud feminist myself and might just be me (& how I was raised as an offspring of a happily married couple..who are still married 51 yrs & still counting..) but I love family meals! Not only that a meal with someone socially, breaking bread, symbolizes something special. It means I think said person(s) are special enough to break bread with. So many things are discussed over a meal time & especially family meals. And one only has to realize how many things, even business transactions/meetings, are handled over a meal to realize the significant importance. Personally? I feel families these days do NOT have shared family meals enough…Yes, in a family structure many things are taught during said family meals. How to interact with actual verbal! dialogue(sadly with technology generations aren’t getting this enough in my opinion…) manners, & also provides a time in a familys’ busy day to CONNECT. How busy our schedules have gotten…one can only imagine why families are falling apart if there is no time, no glue to hold them together during each day. Far too much time is spent doing individual things..i.e..Internet time, video games geared for 1 player, boob tube shows…Family meal times was something my own Daddy felt very strongly about & I’m very glad he did..and he does even today at family reunions or simple gatherings. Stay UPlifted & blessed:)

  27. Meals with kids is fun and interesting, nd never the same hey!.
    I’ve been blessed with a child who eats most things without much encouragement (including non-human-food items like leaves and spiders) and I know I’m very lucky. Dinner time however is never an enforced ‘we all sit and eat’ situation. We always have the meal ready and on the table, and offer the nuclear family thing, but if Jack is too busy getting up and down and showing not a lot of interest, I know he is simply not hungry.

    He has lots of routine and good food all day, so we do our best not to force him. The resistance of an extremely strong willed 2 year old is difficult at feral hour! We know too much pressure would simply antagonise him, so the attempt is to get him to want to, not feel he has to. Again, he’s such a good eater it’s most often a case of him just not being hungry.

    Don’t too many people with finicky eaters feel jealous of my garbage guts…he’s a crappy sleeper!

    P.s He’s totally worth it though, like every other ratbag!

  28. Terrific blog! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I believe it was in a recent issue of Ms. Magazine that I saw a critique of the new foodie movements, the “go local” and “grow your own food”/”cook from scratch” movements; the critique essentially said that they are simply a new way of corralling women back into the kitchen. The way that we limit the concepts of family and motherhood and womanhood and humanness disturb me, so it is always thrilling to find such a strong and thoughtful feminist voice — thanks for writing!

  29. Reblogged this on Writing Reconsidered and commented:
    In a recent issue of Ms. Magazine, I saw a critique of the new foodie movements, the “go local” and “grow your own food”/”cook from scratch” movements; the critique essentially said that they are simply a new way of corralling women back into the kitchen. The way that we limit the concepts of family, motherhood, womanhood, and humanness disturb me, so it is always thrilling to find such a strong and thoughtful feminist voice as I have found in this blog. I hope you enjoy this commentary and that it makes you reconsider our mainstream social expectations of “family,” “family meals,” and “family time” as well as where those expectations come from.

    (If you’re interested in the Ms. Magazine article, here’s their blurb on it and the link: Back to the Kitchen | BY MARIA MCGRATH
    Today’s proponents of a natural-food “revolution” sometimes forget history — and return us to patriarchal fantasies of happy housewives at their hot stoves.”

  30. You wrote down the inner turmoil I’ve felt for years. Dinner scenes growing up were miserable (think Prince of Tides dinner scene). Food became a power issue and sneaking it to eat on one’s own was the only reprieve. That still haunts me to this day. My family now is very casual about meals, mostly because I’ve been resistant to anything we’re told we’re supposed to do. My child has manners and survives society just fine. I’m surprised by the Pollan comments. You can still be right about some things and a complete jackass about others, I guess.
    This post was edifying!

  31. I can appreciate your insight as someone who grew up with two working parents and am myself a working Mom. I too find most of Michael Pollen’s views singularly lacking. Congratulations on making the most of whatever a family meal means to your family now. Food should be joyful, and time spent with family a pleasant time for you all. I am proud that you are choosing to embrace this side of your future rather than cling to your past.

  32. interesting blog
    but seriously
    people in the media are not to be taken seriously –
    its just
    showbiz –
    a shame
    so many people do

    me and my lady cook for each other
    or whatever is easiest
    !

    thanks

  33. While I agree that when it comes to both families and meal times one size does not fit all, I think you are zeroing in on one feature of the “family meal” and ignoring others. In today’s busy, technology-driven world, my own family’s meal time is often the one time we are all together without being plugged into technology. My family’s one rule is no cell phones at the dinner table, and with all of our busy schedules and personal to-do lists and interests, its rare that we are all together without someone being distracted by technology. Whether it is mom, dad, the eldest child, grandma, the chinese restaurant down the street, or chefs in the kitchen, meals can be a great time for families to check back in with each other. Maybe I’ve missed all the “moralizing” about the tradition, but somehow I don’t think I’d find it convincing. People can think and say whatever they want-its up to you to be happy with your own life! I think I’ll continue to be happy with my family’s tradition. But thanks for the interesting post, it was definitely thought-provoking.

  34. I think views on ‘family meals’ are largely dependent on cultural exposure. Certainly, all cultures teach you the ‘manners you need to carry forward to society’, but many families don’t actually have a matriarchal dominance over dinner time. As a Pakistani family (an a very unconventional one at that), I, the oldest daughter, help mum cook dinner and set the table, while dad expects dinner to be ready as per his will; typical of any family. However, him and my brother are in charge of washing the dishes, so I guess that’s mine and mum’s was of establishing justice … or perhaps seeking revenge. As for stressful, I personally feel that our ‘You Must Come To Dinner and Abandon All Else’ policy has given me a chance to connect and share with my family, and to unwind after a difficult day. But to each their own. I did love hearing your take on it. Please do give my humble blog a read.
    Cheers:)

  35. I appreciate your thoughts here. You given me a perspective on Pollan I hadn’t thought of. Thanks, John

  36. You had some tough years, and it’s easy to understand your feelings about family meals, and heart-warming that you really do things the way you want, now:)

  37. Growing your own anything will get your kids interested in food, healthy home-grown food but to be honest as long as everyone eats something and some of it is healthy some of the time I don’t think it really matters. It is so easy to get so obsessed with eating ‘right’ that we pass on food issues to our kids. I find it almost impossible not to clear the plate so I never make mine do that. Desert when it is available is there if they want it not as a treat if they finish their dinner. Jeez, sometimes I will order two deserts when I eat out because I love pudding and usually that is when I haven’t finished my main meal.
    The family meal can be one of the most stressful times of day. I remember my brother being force fed cold peas that he really didn’t want until he was physically sick. That is abuse not love.

  38. A friend of ours headed off to university last year, and said that his parents were not perfect, but were ‘perfect for him.’

    As I have a five year old (who, incidently, adores him) I asked what it was that his parents did that worked so well.

    He thought for a moment and said, “We always ate together.”

  39. My family has always just had laid back dinners, rarely at the dinner table and my mom and dad would usually work together or we would all try pitching in, but even without a “traditional” dinner there would be conflict somehow, but I actually miss how our dinners were, now we just eat whenever really or whatever.

  40. All of the television food critics and chefs seem like they would be awful people to eat with to me.
    I remember once realizing something and turning to mum to voice it: “have you ever noticed that all the food women on tv are called ‘cooks’ and all the food men on tv are called ‘chefs’?” As soon as it becomes a profession, it’s a man’s job.

  41. Well, if there are many children who are young, then some family meals can be tiring for the parents.

    Then later, it doesn’t need to be stressful if one teaches children to help out. (‘course it helps partner shares tasks in kitchen too).

    But overall, family meals was where I learned about eating with others, no matter what one was served.

  42. I personally enjoy the family meal as a time to catch up with the small unit of people you care about. I grew up in a house where my mum was ‘just ok’ at cooking, but dad was GREAT, and still is. I reacted to that by becoming a better cook myself, rebelling against becoming like my mother. (what a rebellion!) As a teen, the schedules of my parents and sister were so varied from my own, it was a rarity to actually sit together. I don’t begrudge that time in our lives, but it could have changed an aspect of mine–I was being molested, and never felt I had a forum or opportunity to speak to anybody in my house. *Who* is the maker and *what* is made to be eaten is the simple business of the family and the situation. I feel it is the equal responsibility of any able adult in the house to contribute time, labor, and conversation toward dinner. I do firmly believe, however, that *a* meal shared daily should be the norm, not the exception, to give family time to regroup, reflect, and recharge.

  43. I’ve shared food with families all over the world, including very poor ones. It isn’t the food that makes it a family meal so much as the family. If the rules you are being taught at the table are petty, oppressive, and tyrannical, there is something wrong with the family–not the meal. The real rules we need are ones that relate to a genuine care for one another. I didn’t learn these at home, but I learned them at other people’s tables.

  44. I’m so sorry that dinnertime was difficult for you growing up. Family homes are so different from each other. My family, for example, never ate dinner together. My father would come home with a big bag of take-out and then we’d each pick out our order before running off to our own corner of the house to eat alone. Because of this, I want nothing more than to share family dinner time with my own family. We sit down at the table every night, even on nights when my husband isn’t home from work yet. My kids are four year old twins so often “dinner time” lasts a total of seven minutes before everyone runs off to play. So long as we sat and talked for a few minutes, though, and actually ate together, I’m happy. This time is so important to me. I hope that one day my kids look back on it with fond memories.

    -Lainey Tweed
    http://laineytweed.wordpress.com

  45. I don’t know exactly how I feel about this issue. When I was a child, we had meals together every night, but we sometimes ate it in the living room, and sometimes the children ate in the kitchen while the adults ate in the living room (we had no dining room, and our kitchen was tiny). We only ate together at the table on holidays. But there was a lot of interaction, anyway. It seems to me that people on all sides are weighing down this issue of family meals, giving it meaning that it doesn’t really have, and more than anything else, using it as a standard of judgment. That’s ridiculous. It’s a way to eat a meal and be together as a family. The specifics of how you do that are up to you.
    As an adult, my wife (now ex-wife) and I did a similar routine, both before and after our kids came along: a mix of meals at the table and in the living room, but mostly together. Sometimes I cooked, sometimes she did, sometimes we did it together (the kids are still too young to help). It was a good experience even at the hard times, because we were together. I would give anything to have those times back if I could. (Oh, and for the record, she suffered from Bulimia for a while as well, though thankfully she did recover after several years. I understand the pressures that an eating disorder puts on a person and a family, so I’m not unsympathetic. Even knowing that, we did everything we could to get the most out of those times, even when I knew she was just going to go in the next room and throw it back up. I’d never make light of such a thing–but I would tell anyone that it IS surviveable.)

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  47. Thank you for writing this – I think our experience of childhood meal times greatly affects how we eat as adults. My Mother was a lonely child who had to find her own dinner whilst both her parents worked, and thus family meals whilst my siblings and I were growing up were utterly compulsory at every time of the day and at every course. However, with my childhood anorexia, I remember mealtimes as a time of high pressure and arguments, full of disappointment and anger from my parents that I could not do what they expected to be natural. Consequently, I developed in to a teenager with a fear of food and cooking, and I always felt like less of a daughter for not being a competent cook. Even now, the fact that my husband cooks nearly all of our meals has got me snide comments about my lack of ‘wife-skills.’ This post definitely makes me feel more validated as a woman who doesn’t necessarily produce meals.

  48. Today, I went to the beach with my kids.
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    entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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