Daily Archives: September 17, 2013

Dining and Family and Friends and Maybe Adding Something Active to the Mix

Whenever we go on vacation, it seems an inordinate amount of time and discussion and debate revolves around what, when, and where to eat. And when I tell people, oh I am going to Chicago, or Seattle, or San Diego, it’s the restauraunts that get talked about!! What is it about food and dining that creates such drama and interest in our lives?

When my kids were little it was hammered into our head that a family that eats together stays together, the sitting around a table breaking bread was so very important. I agree that the idea of sitting around a table, talking about our days was wonderful, sometimes the creating of the meal that brought us together wasn’t so wonderful. Picky eaters, husband who had a huge lunch, me watching my calories, rushing to get it done to head off to a sports event or play. And kids are taught that eating what is served is a way to show love, love the food, love the chef. So much gets wrapped around and entwined with our eating habits, that it can get all twisted up. The judgments we make about what and how people eat, their manners, how they chew. And heaven forbid we get a bad meal and then who do we blame!!

You see people trying to control their lives and feelings with anorexia or binge eating. If one is unhappy, we ask about their appetite. The guilt people have for eating the “wrong food”. How religious practices are engrained in what one can or cannot eat. Sadly, we see the number of obese people in this country growing. Are they obese because they see food as a reward or as company when they are alone? That eating bad “tasty” food is a right? That you have to eat all you are given or served because, gosh you paid for it? Do people eating together talk each other into eating more? Are we distracted because of the conversation we mindlessly eat? For people that eat poorly when alone, is the food a way of having a friend there, because they associate food with love and family?

When we get together with friends, its most often around sharing a meal together, and who picks the restaurant and who pays. One couple, the wife doesn’t eat red meat, and more often then not, the husband picks a place that specializes in steaks. The wife then remarks on that fact, laughing, but I know it bothers her. And when we get a bad meal, we are angry and sad. We let that food affect our moods so easily. We socially count on food as the glue to hold us together and that can be a good thing, but it shouldn’t be relied on so heavily.

Once a week I take my mom out for dinner, it’s a treat, we get the same thing every week, even though we complain about our own cooking and the same meals we make. We enjoy the drive, the walking around, the people watching, just as much as we enjoy our fish tacos. The food, to me anyway, is almost secondary, it’s a means to get my nutrition while spending time with my mom and treating her to something fun.

I was listening to an audio book about centenarians, and that one thing they pretty much all had in common was “breaking bread” with their families, and how that ritual was healthy for mind and body. It got me to thinking, was it the eating, or the doing something together that helped them age so well? Was it the sharing of mashed potatoes that created that bond, or the idea they had to sit in one place for a bit of time that was the secret? Have studies been done about families that walk together? What if we took away the distraction of the food, and substituted an activity that would allow for talking, bring people together, and didn’t bring in the complication of cooking, the expense of dining out, and the rest of the issues food can bring to the table?

Over the years, I have become friends with people through meeting at the local park and walking our dogs together. We share stories, work gripes, tales about the kids and the neighbors, and we are exercising in the fresh air. This mutual activity is often just as “bonding” as sitting down to share a meal together would be, without some of the added issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good meal. There are meals I remember enjoying that we had 15 years ago. I remember giggling at family dinners over the same old joke my husband would tell, and my daughters complainng about a teacher. But I also remember going for walks with the my little family and having just as great conversations. Or Walking to and from a museum and talking about politics. My husband and I walk the dogs in the evening and it is refreshing to get outside and just enjoy each other.

We know that relaxing and enjoying our meals is important, that slowing down and appreciating what we have in front of us, taking time to chew, taking time to talk. In many countries dinners can last for hours. It becomes not about the food so much as it about the conversation, your dinner partners, the candle light, the music, the ambiance. Weddings and receptions can go on for six hours, but when you think about it, maybe an hour is given over to actually eating, or waiting to be served. The cutting of the cake isn’t so much about eating the cake, but the shared action of the wedding couple. After graduations, we celebrate by eating a fun meal (we are hungry after four hours!!) but its as much about the chatting as the late lunch.

I think taking food out of the equation, this pressure to create family situations that always involve scarfing down dinner, and instead start substituting active get together would be healthier for all involved. There are certain friends we only see at dinners. I was thinking it would be fun to go for a hike. Take a walk around their small town. Rent a paddle boat. Park further from the restaurant and walk a few blocks (even in heals ladies!!) And as for family dinners, keep them going, but add in other ways to be together with no tv, computers or cell phones. A fifteen minute stroll after dinner can give as much family time as a rushed dinner. And much less stressful…

I am hoping that we can change the idea that sharing a meal is the most important way for a family to reconnect. Sure it is a good way, but there are so many other ways to spend time together. Coloring a poster, walking the dogs, walking along the beach or window shopping.

This week, find a way to do something with family or friends, that doesn’t involve food. Create new rituals that bring you together and bring balance to your lives. The twenty minute walk to the diner can be just as rewarding as the burger or giant salad!!

Yours in Litheness