My motivation for writing my new book, “The Shared-Meal Revolution” was many decades in the making.
In my childhood, my family had a robust family meal ritual. There were eleven of us children (six boys and five girls — I’m #10 with a twin brother who is #11) plus my parents. There were so many children that we spanned two generations. My father liked to joke that after my twin brother and I were born, it was time to stop having children because we were coming out in twos. Dinnertime in our home was a daily event. It happened like clockwork every weekday at 5:00pm. There was never a conversation about whether we would all sit down for dinner together; it was expected. Our schedules catered to preserving the dinner hour. It was sacred. We frequently had a special guest for dinner, which was always a fun feature to experience as a child. During the weekends, my mother had special meal rituals — such as making her family-famous French toast on Saturday mornings. On Sunday, we would have an extended meal at a relatives house — at 2pm, and all the aunts, uncles, cousins and neighborhood kids would join.
When I was married in the 80’s, my husband and I would share meals with each other, and then also with our kids after they were born. Our schedules didn’t keep us away from the table. Our lifestyles were busy but nowhere near as busy as most families today. Unfortunately my husband and I were divorced in the 90’s; and I entered the world of being a single parent. I was concerned that my two kids and I would lose touch with one another, and also lose traditions in the home. Having a shared-meal ritual was one way I felt I could provide a steady presence of stability for my kids. It also gave my me and my two children the benefit of watching over one another.
As the years passed, our lives started to feel overscheduled, more complicated in many different ways, and it was simply harder to get together. At the time I didn’t consider a plan for sharing meals. We flexed in lots of different ways to make daily meals happen, and most evenings we were lucky enough to enjoy time around the table. But I could see that there was a seismic shift in how people were spending time at home. I could feel that sharing meals was becoming something that was considered an expendable activity. There were plenty of other activities ready to take its place. And, with the steady growth of technology, it would only become more challenging.
In 2000, my mother passed away from Alzheimer’s. As the saying goes, “A person is born twice; first at birth, and then when her mother dies.” This was true for me. After my mother died, I was a little lost. I started thinking about my values and priorities. Besides putting more daily emphasis on having meals with my (now) teenage son and daughter, I started having more meals with other people too as a way to reconnect and move forward. I rediscovered the power of sharing meals again.
In my fourties, I went back to college. For a master’s thesis for a human development degree, I did a study of the family meal ritual and how it changed over generations. I studied my own multi-generational family. Because I had such a positive experience at the dinner table growing up, I assumed that all of my older siblings did too. But during the writing of my thesis, I was quite surprised to learn that several of my older brothers and sisters (those siblings almost a generation older than me because of the wide span of ages) had a very different experience. That was because in the early days before I was born, my parents had more restrictions at the table; children were to speak when spoken to, and my parents sometimes disciplined their kids at the dinner table. Fortunately, my otherwise very loving parents’ rules around our family table became less strict over the years, and more enjoyable each year. By the time I was sitting in my special spot, to the right of my mother, it was a very joyful experience.
It was then after researching this topic for my thesis that I realized that not only having a shared-meal ritual was important, but there were “best practices” to how the meal is experienced in order to get the benefits. I became passionate about sharing what I learned. I decided to turn my research and thesis paper into a book: “The Shared-Meal Revolution” was born.
I feel strongly that a shared-meal ritual can help us preserve important connection with each other, and truly feel a sense of life balance. A shared-meal ritual is something that is especially important — and truly relevant — for all of us. It’s especially important for families with growing children, but its a meaningful activity for all.
Technology is something that I fully appreciate. It’s exciting and useful. I spent time every day using technology, but I am very mindful not to overdepend on it. The truth is that no amount or type of social media can replace in-person interactions with each other.
If we don’t have some kind of a plan to connect with each other every day, then we may lose a vital type of interpersonal communication — the kind that you get from being around the dinner table together, enjoying each other’s company, and being a part of each other’s lives through daily conversation and support.
I offer that sharing one meal a day with someone you care about will help you to reclaim that much needed balance we all crave.
I hope you will join me in spreading the word, and helping to preserve the shared-meal ritual. As you learn more from my blog and articles, I trust you too will feel it deserves a place in 21st century. Now, more than ever.
To join The Shared-Meal Revolution: visit www.shared-meals.com, and to sign up for my (free) blog “Shared Meals Matter.”
*Please feel free to share with me your story of your shared-meal practice. I also always love to see pictures of people sharing a meal, and would love to feature your picture on my website.*