Meals Are More Than Eating

Thankgiving dinnr.jpg
Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that celebrates the family and looks inward instead of honoring a public event or individual. As is now our custom for the last few years, we traveled to DC to be with my daughter and family, and enjoyed a sumptuous holiday dinner with friends. Our two families shared the preparations as we have done for the lat few years. A high point was to her everyone’s thoughts about the occasion. One theme ran through everyone’s comments: thankfulness for being together again.

That presence and awareness is tied to the meal in a non-trivial way. Food preparation has been a family or clannish activity since humans arrived on the Earth. It was and is more than simply providing sustenance to the body, but also is an expression of care for the people involved. When meals becomes a commodity delivered in frozen food boxes, or served up at a fast food restaurant, the caring aspect is lost. Marcella Hazan, long respected for her cookbooks on food of the Mediterranean region, echoes these thoughts in a column in the New York Times.

The food Americans eat that is made fresh at home by someone who is close to them is shrinking compared with food consumed at restaurants or prepared outside. And while eating out or taking in may save us time or bring us enjoyment, I would argue that it deprives us of something important.

I am my family’s cook. It is the food prepared and shared at home that, for more than 50 years, has provided a solid center for our lives. In the context of the values that cement human relations, the clamor of restaurants and the facelessness of takeout are no match for what the well-laid family table has to offer. A restaurant will never strengthen familial bonds.

Which is why, as we come together over the holidays, we should take a moment to think about how we might become cooks again. We could even begin, in these financially straitened times, by replacing store-bought presents with meals cooked at home.

After all, what experience of food can compare with eating something good made by someone you can hug? Like other forms of human affection, cooking delivers its truest and most enduring gifts when it is savored in intimacy — prepared not by a chef but by a cook and with love.

Activities that raise consciousness of caring and that have largely disappeared from much of what we do is an important theme in Sustainability by Design. Sustainability depends on restoring our relationship to both nature and to our own species. The time it would take to make eating together an expression of care for one’s family would be time well spent. Shifting from “having” to “being” can only come to be via such meaningful experiences.

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