A conversation with another state university lecturer first alerted me to the heart cry of many, if not most, college students. Her casual mention of preparing the evening meal for her husband and children that day created a storm of envy from the class. Some insisted they couldn’t remember a parent cooking any meal for the family during the week, others said a parent usually picked up take-out food and brought it home for family members to consume whenever they arrived, and still others considered their favorite family times had been sharing fast-food “happy meals” before heading to the next stop.
Thus, these families had missed out on the centuries-old practice of “team building” through shared meals and shared conversations. If they had ever seen Babbette’s Feast, they didn’t take its message to heart – that good food and good conversation heal many wounds. And these 18 and 19 year-olds were angrily aware of their loss.
The good news is that everyone can participate in the remedy! And frankly, it’s time for each person to bravely step up to the plate of beautiful mealtimes. (Pun intended.)
If you recall, Babbette’s guests started the meal she had prepared with fear and trepidation. They were actually afraid of enjoying it or each other. Yet, overcome by the gentle persuasion of course after course of gourmet foods beautifully presented, by the end they were happily sharing stories, ideas, and compassion.
Today’s overloaded families or apartment-mates don’t need an in-house, world class chef to improve the ambiance of the evening meal they share. When anyone goes to the trouble to make any occasion more beautiful, the entire group improves, perhaps slowly, but all good habits eventually create excellence.
The composition or ages of the group who lives together does not matter in the least. The first step is always to just decide to change.
Here are a few examples of innovations to consider. I welcome other suggestions, even anonymous ones, in the comments section.
1. Fix simple meals with the highest quality ingredients available. This will usually save time, money, and energy. No need to copy Babbette’s elaborate menu, but do follow her precedent by carefully selecting the best examples of each food item needed for the meal.
2. Take turns or share the chores involved. Shopping, setting the table, cooking, and clean-up are part of every meal. Teenagers and adults can take turns with any of these aspects of a beautiful occasion, while smaller children can learn to set the table, fold the napkins, and clear the table one plate at a time. Soon they can even load the dishwasher and prepare simple recipes.
3. Whoever cooks should strive to present the dish attractively. Neatness is the most important factor, but with practice one does develop expertise in arranging the platter or bowl.
4. Wait until everyone arrives before beginning the meal. Children learn their own value to others by insisting that they are part of the group and the group needs their participation.
5. Table time is for eating, talking, and learning from each other. No electronics are allowed! No television. No radio. No phones in the room. If a phone rings, the call can be returned after the meal. This rule applies to both home and restaurant meals.