Sharing food and conversation around the dinner table makes for happier, healthier families. Author Michael Pollan and physician Nadine Burke discuss the evolution and importance of the family meal.
What has happened to the family meal in our modern age?
Nadine Burke: When I was a kid, dinnertime was family time. That was sacred time. I could hang out with my friends all I wanted before or after, but dinnertime was the time that we connected as a family. Recently, our eating habits have really changed. About 50 percent of meals are eaten outside of the home, and 20 percent in cars.
We’re eating more of our meals out, where we don’t have control over what goes into them. We don’t have time to make nutritious meals so we eat a lot of processed food or prepackaged food or fast food. There are a whole lot of factors that have gone into what is now the obesity epidemic.
Michael Pollan: The whole social institution of eating together is fracturing and breaking down. The drift in the last 50 years or so has been to eat individually. It benefits food companies when you eat individually, because you tend to eat more. Each individual will have different food choices, which segments the market. Food marketers would rather have us eat lots of stuff by ourselves in isolation than eating together. They love getting us to eat in front of the television set, on our own, on the run, and in the car.
What are the benefits of sharing meals?
Michael Pollan: We know from recent research that kids who eat meals with their families more nights than not have fewer eating disorders, have fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, and are generally happier and more well-adjusted children. This isn’t surprising. There’s enormous amount of education that goes on at the dinner table. The family meal is an incredibly important social institution. This is where we civilize our children. This is where our children learn the art of conversation. This is where we exchange the news of the day.
Nadine Burke: There’s research showing that if you sit down and have a meal at home with friends and family, there are a number of social outcomes. Number one, you’re more likely to eat a more nutritious meal. Number two, you have far more control over what goes into that meal. Then, on top of the nutritional benefits, there’s camaraderie and the family bonding that goes into sitting down and talking about your day over dinner in the evening. Kids do better. The whole family does better.More: Cooking and Eating, Creating Community, Food and Community, Food Culture, Michael Pollan, Nadine Burke, Youth