I just finished responding to an article focused on placing stricter controls on the food industry to curb obesity in the United States.  This is a very sensitive topic that can be approached from various angles.  Certainly one could argue that food marketing is focused on the success of temptation and the total lack of self-control that many of us have.  Should there be restrictions placed on this or portion sizes (as is the case in NYC with a ban on over-sized soft drinks), or maybe certain ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, salt or even the almighty sugar?  One side of me says “yes” when you look at the alarming rate of diabetes in the U.S., high blood pressure, and obesity.  Yet another side of me likes to look for a cause rather than just dealing with effects.

The family table has long been a topic that consumes me at times.  I will now attempt to blame most of our problems as a nation on the demise of this extremely important part of any culture.  I have oftentimes asked young culinary students to talk about their food heritage, how their families cooked, what ingredients they used, how they conversed about their ethnic roots.  It has been very alarming to discover that so many young people have nothing to discuss.  They know very little about their heritage, they come from families that simply did not cook, there were no sacred recipes passed down from prior generations, their favorite meals came from the local quick service restaurant and in many cases they rarely sat down as a family to break bread.

When did it happen?  Should we blame television and the 1950’s TV dinners?  Should we blame the invention of the micro-wave oven?  Should we blame Bird’s Eye for the growth of frozen foods? Should we blame McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut for making everything too easy?  Maybe we should blame the school system for turning their nose up to Home Economics classes, or maybe it should rest on the two-income family that evolved from the 1970’s to today.

There is something very fulfilling about taking the time to enjoy a home cooked meal with the most important people in your life.  Time to actually talk (instead of text), time to appreciate the food on the table, time to simply enjoy each other’s company. I doubt that we can honestly place the blame on those conveniences that come with a society that is evolving around technology.  The blame really rests with the core family unit and the priority of educating each other about food, politics, economics, being neighborly, and just what it means to appreciate people.

One of the most amazing things about food is that when it is well prepared it is a unifying event.  Great food can cool down tempers, bring smiles to people’s faces, act as a conversation starter, and most importantly put everyone on an equal playing field.  Just imagine how many issues will go away if we could just learn from our ancestors about creating the family table.

Restaurants are trying very hard to fill in the void.  Family style restaurant chains are flourishing, however it just isn’t the same.  First of all restaurants provide choice.  Because of this choice there is little opportunity to talk about the source of the food, how it was prepared, and what connections it has to the family.  Food education comes from growing, cleaning, cooking, and serving the food.  Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the fact that 50% of the average American food dollar is spent in restaurants.  It has kept me gainfully employed for decades.  In the process, we have lost the ability to pass on those wonderful pieces of family heritage.  Even Thanksgiving is one of the biggest restaurant days of the year!

So, what do I propose?

* Bring back Home Economics in the schools

* Close restaurants on Thanksgiving (your employees would like the day off to be with family)

* Start a campaign around “learning to cook”, rather than just watching the Food Network

* Research your family heritage and what foods they grew up with (you might need to go back 2 generations)

* Mandate that family meal time is sacred and everyone needs to dedicate at least 30 minutes to being together

* Eliminate choice for dinner.  Make each meal have meaning and start to educate those around the table about the ingredients and methods of cooking used.

* Everyone in the family should learn how to cook and rotate the responsibility.  Make it fun again.

Talk to me about your family table.