Comment: Family meals together?

Is the idea of families eating dinner together at a table an antidote to society’s ills? If so, has everybody got the space, asks Helen Bonnick

My own family experience sums up the variety of prevailing attitudes towards food. Some people live to eat (quick, get him to bed before he wants another meal); some eat to live (I’m not hungry – I might have something later). The French are famous for lingering animatedly over lunch, allegedly the reason that they are slimmer than us Brits. The preparation and presentation of a meal can represent the giving of love, or food can become a potent weapon in the battle for power and control. It would seem of late that it is even more auspicious than we had realised.

For the last year, I have been reading, via the internet, a regular offering of newspaper articles from the US about the importance of families sitting down to eat together as an antidote to teenage drug and alcohol abuse and general delinquency. Indeed, for one family, a requirement to do so was made part of a sentence in court – with follow-up court appearances to check on progress.

Having read all this with slightly raised eyebrow and curled lip, and muttering jovially about our US cousins, I am now bemused by the announcement of a government drive in this country to persuade us all to buy a dining room table. Will there be dining orders as well as parenting orders? Is this another example of Blair following Bush’s lead? Or is there an Ikea clause in Sven’s leaving package? Jamie’s part in the demise of the turkey twizzler has of course guaranteed that he is fronting the campaign and, notwithstanding the potential minefield of attempting to eat and talk to teenagers at the same time, I am generally in favour of the concept.

There is, however, one fatal flaw in the argument. A lot of families eat their meals on their laps in front of the television, not necessarily because they think it’s the proper thing to do but because, unless you have a foot firmly on the property ladder, there isn’t space in modern homes for both a sitting room and a dining room. And if you only have one small living room are you going to opt for a sofa and chairs or a table and chairs? The socially and educationally aware among us will presumably opt for the table so that it can double up for homework. As for me, I’m for the sofa.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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