Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Rant - When did food become so crazy?

As I've mentioned in several of my recent posts, I'm reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma right now. There was one passage that completely shocked me (or rather, I shouldn't be shocked but found that really, deep down, I was). This is based on research done by General Mills, where they worked with families to put cameras in their kitchens to record their eating habits.

"Mom...prepares a dish and a salad that she usually winds up eating by herself. Meanwhile, the kids, and Dad, too, if he's around, each fix something different for themselves, because Dad's on a low-carb diet, the teenager's become a vegetarian, and the eight-year-old in on a strict ration of pizza that the shrink says it's best to indulge (lest she develop eating disorders later on in life). So over the course of a half hour or so each family member roams into the kitchen, removes a single-portion entree from the freezer, and zaps it in the microwave...After the sound of the beep each diner brings his microwavable dish to the dining room table, where he or she may or may not cross paths with another family member at the table for a few minutes. Families who eat in this way are among the 47 percent of Americans who report to pollsters that they still sit down to a family meal every night,"

I have several major problems with this, I hardly know where to start. First of all, I would hardly call that a family dinner. It takes about 5 minutes to eat a microwaved meal, so their overlap is going to be pretty small, if at all. It doesn't leave much opportunity for parents to check in with kids, to find out what's going on in their lives (and it's hardly likely that teenagers are going to seek out opportunities for that otherwise). It doesn't teach the kids healthy eating habits. It encourages everyone to be solo in their own household. And to think they consider this to be a "family dinner"?

Now, I know that families are really busy, what with extra work from the office, various music or sports lessons, homework, friends, that sort of thing. And perhaps a family dinner every night isn't practical. But I'm sure it can be worked out at least a couple times a week.

But it's more the microwave dinner thing that bothers me. And the fact that the 8 year old is indulged in eating pizza every night because that's what she's decided she likes, to the exclusion of all else. I mean, seriously? What happened to parenting? I was admittedly a very picky eater as a child, but I still got my protein, carbs and veggies for meals. I wasn't forced to finish my plate, but I was encouraged to try things I didn't like. I didn't always try them, but I at least had a more or less balanced diet. But letting your child eat only pizza is a major case of spoildom. Sure, you don't want her to get an eating disorder later on. But I think the creation of an eating disorder is more in the way that it's approached - for instance, it's not that you're not allowing her to have pizza every night that's going to cause the eating disorder. It's the way you go about it. If you say "pizza's a bad food, and it's going to make you fat. Eat this salad and you'll be skinny and pretty," well hell that's got eating disorder written all over it. But if you get her involved in the cooking process (pride in creating food is a powerful thing), and work to make tasty recipes (not just flavorless "healthy" things), then eventually, her grip on the pizza will start to lessen.

Now, I know I don't have kids, and it's easy to throw out opinions every which way. But come on, this is just ridiculous. When I was living in Calais, France, the kids at the elementary school I taught at were eating things like pate and liver for their lunches. "Well, they're French," you might say. And no, I'm not advocating pate and liver for kids. But I think that the French have a better sense of a parent, don't coddle the kids so much that you let them eat unhealthy food every day of the week (make the yummy unhealthy food be a treat, not a standard), and make an event out of a meal. We're so scattered in this country, running from one thing to the next, that we often forget just to sit down and enjoy what we're doing, whether that's eating or what have you.


Tami said...

I don't think I ever had family dinners.

I had Sunday Breakfasts, where we had pancakes or french toast, and we all sat down at the table, but I've never had a family dinner that wasn't an event, like going over to dinner at a friend's house for christmas or something.

I'll admit, my vision of what a family dinner is really doesn't jive with the one you quoted, that's for sure!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Well, for me, growing up, I had family sit-down dinners at my dad's house, and we all watched tv while we ate together at my mom's house. But we were all eating at the same time, and there was rarely a microwave product found. I think it's more the disparate and prepackaged food that I'm having trouble with...

Anonymous said...

This doesn't surprise me at all. There has been a generational shift, and I think we're starting to swing back to the healthier side slightly. Our grandmothers' generation cooked. More often than not, they worked in the home, and took time preparing foods from scratch. Hell, my grandmother could cook ANYTHING, and having grown up on a farm, she relied on canning to preserve the things you wouldn't get other seasons. And moreover, she cooked daily. My mother worked out of the home, and had learned how to cook from her mother, so she wasn't cooking as much, but she was still getting the four basic food groups from pre-packaged foods, but not paying as much attention to the preservatives and fat that have to go into those foods to make them palatable. So here comes our generation--that's all we eat, and our culinary knowledge is that much less for not being around an active kitchen. A balanced diet comes fully presented to you out of the freezer.

I think we're slowly getting back to the old style though, what with the locally-grown & organic foods movement.

Sorry, that's a rant.


Charlotte said...

family dinners are really important to me. However, with my kids ages, they are usually a struggle. I still do them because I want to set a precedent but more nights then not someone is having a tantrum about something I've cooked, someone else is throwing food and the other kid is face-down, asleep in his stir fry. It's truly tough being a parent these days (not, I suppose, that it was much easier in earlier days) but I do think mealtimes are worth the effort and the struggle. PS> LOVE Pollan's books!

Anonymous said...

"The average woman in 1965 spent 13 hours a week cooking."