Marion Cunningham, one of my food heros, has a great piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about the demise of family cooking and mealtime. I don’t get it. My family life as a kid was pretty chaotic, but my mother always cooked, and taught both my brother and I to cook along with her. Most of my happy memories of my Mom’s house revolve around days we spent cooking, either experimenting with new dishes, or cooking things we all knew we liked. I’ll never forget the first curry I ever made, with instructions from a woman I remember only as Ann-from-Iran. I’d never used fresh ginger before, and when I put it in the blender and chopped it up, well! I think of that moment, that explosive aroma, and turning to my mother and saying “Smell this!” almost every time I cook with ginger.
At my father’s house, we ate dinner together, at the dining room table, at least three or four times a week. We were expected to have good table manners, and to make conversation about the events of the day. Throughout most of high school my father and I debated politics at the dinner table, and I still credit him with making me feel comfortable enough with public debate that I was routinely one of the only women in my graduate school classes who spoke up. (And all these years later, when his political beliefs have taken a 180, it’s pretty entertaining to hear him rant about the Bush administration. I keep reminding him that when I made the same argument in high school, he was on the other side.)
I don’t understand my friends with kids. I know life is hectic, but I have almost no friends whose children are capable of sitting at the table for the length of a real meal without complaining about the food, making a mess of something, or just making polite conversation. I mean, even when I was a nanny, for a four year old with Down Syndrome, we went to lunch on Saturday afternoons to practice manners. Her mother wanted her to have good manners, because this would make her life easier in the long run. Are all these sports and after school activities really more important than family life? I wonder. But go read Marion Cunningham’s article. For one thing, she’s more articulate than I am and she makes a very salient political point that in a world of scarce resources, “convenience” foods, with their excessive packaging, their expense, and the way they undermine family life are a corrosive force.