Food and social decay, a proposal to reverse the trend

In Lifestyle on March 20, 2013 at 11:07 am

The time spent on the most basic of human social interactions has shrunk to ten percent of what it was just forty years ago. It got me thinking that it is no small wonder society is in decay.


“In 1972, Americans averaged two hours and forty-five minutes, per day, spent on meal preparation. In 2011, they spent…

…seventeen minutes, per day.”

I was just about to turn off the television when the above factoid crackled from its speaker as I read a book. I was so stunned (and later, disturbed) that it took me almost two hours to fall asleep. When I heard it, I sat bolt upright. I was so amazed that, by the time I found pen and paper, the announcer had moved on to other news and I missed her citation of who had made the finding.

The next day, I hustled off to do some quick research.

I never ran the citation to ground, but I found some very interesting data to distract me during my searching. Some of it is worthy of my pixels.

Between 2001 and 2004, UCLA researchers evaluated America’s use of convenience foods and the frequency they ate meals in restaurants or as take-away. According to their findings, Americans eat 77% of meals at home, but only 22% of those meals do not consist of convenience foods.

Here are some other findings from their investigation:

–       Only 59% of families ate together, even when all of the family members where home.

–       67% of families ate together when at least one member was absent.

–       During the monitoring period (three random days) only 17% ate together on all days.

–       23% of families never ate together.

–       63% of families had members eating at different times from other members.

–       50% of fathers were not home at any mealtime.

Here’s the good news:

Over three-fourths of Americans eat their meals at home.

Here’s the bad news:

Over three-fourths of the meals prepared consist of convenience foods and the family eats just over half of them communally.

Eating and sharing food is a primal human need. Hostage negotiators have long known that success (released hostages without the use of force) are more likely to take place if the hostage-taker has been willing to accept food from the negotiator.

Take home message: “We don’t kill or maim people we share food with.”

[NOTE: I am married to the most delightful woman on the planet. Unfortunately, the poor thing cannot cook. Even convenience food challenges her. In the early days of our (long past thirty) years together, our smoke detector announced, “Dinner is served.” I took over cooking duties as a survival measure.]

I’m not a neo-conservative. Consequently, I’m not about to hold forth with nonsense like, “This the way I do it. So, everyone must do (or suffer) as I do (have) in order to be happy or successful.” The following is just ‘one way’ offered in example and with the hope readers will explore their own methods.

Let’s look at the fundamentals first.

Most of us spend our lives hurrying through one thing so we can get started on the next task (which we hurry through)…to get to the next (hurried task).

Cooking is often a hurried task for most people and meals go like this:

Get the food cooked. Get it on the table. Get it in your gullet. Get cleaned up. Do something else.

Diners sometimes end up with a bag of ‘something’ passed around eager hands as they lean over the sink to eat it. Once ‘feeding’ has ceased, the family scatters. Prepared meals, according to the researchers, typically involves opening a pouch, can, box, or bag. Stuff gets mixed in or the food is served ‘as is’. The meal is then gulped down by diners unencumbered by social contact.

Until my Buddhist friends pointed this out, I didn’t realize that the Phyne Dyning meal-style and food preparation was a mindful way of dealing with food.

Here’s how it works.

At our appointed times, we convene at respective mealtimes. Dinner (‘lunch’ in Yankee-Speak) is a quick and simple meal consisting of one or many of the following: tinned fish, cheeses, boiled eggs, pita and hummus (or herbed oils) and cups of hot (usually mint) tea. Eating light at dinner means there will be no subsequent torpor (stupor?) from waddling around, stuffed.

[NOTE: Breakfast is equally simple. Israeli salad, boiled eggs, brown rice, or oatmeal usually fills the bill.]

Supper is the highlight of the day.

We convene in the kitchen while I do the cooking. Banter about our day fills the air as I chop and slice ingredients. She runs things in and out of the freezer or fridge as I work. Prep dishes and equipment gets a washing as soon as they are no longer needed. If it is Shabbat or Yom Tov, we enjoy cocktails as I work. (As our part of mindful living, we no longer drink alcohol routinely.) When the meal is finished cooking, so is all discussion of politics and work.

At the table, our conversation is carefully limited to positive topics and happy discussions. Again, if it is Shabbat or Yom Tov, we enjoy a glass of wine or two as we eat. At every meal, our little greyhound gal entertains us with a floorshow (begging for bits of bread, if any) while we eat. Mozart, Vivaldi, light Israeli pop, or other music plays softly (barely audible) as we converse and eat.

We think it is a magnificent way to eat routinely or when we socialize with guests.

Our ancestors, in times of peace and plenty, ate and prepared meals in a similar manner.

Even in the most desperate of times, people in desperate days attempted to keep balance and internal harmony by eating and sharing food in a civilized manner. In dire times, that kind of civilized dining is often the last vestige of humanity to be surrendered to purely animalistic survival.

Conversely, I believe it is equally probable that, even in times of relative peace and plenty, when people abandon their most basic civil food behaviors, they also descend to more base manners of thinking and living.

It seems worthy of some thought.

Spending only seventeen minutes (per day) to prepare unshared food may free us up to earn more money or to spend it on (unfortunately, usually solitary) entertainments.

But I think it has cost us our humanity.

Eat, and share, your food in a mindful manner with others. It’s human nature to do so.


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