The way we eat is changing. Understanding the reasons behind the change may help shift your own thinking about how you feed yourself and others.

In that fictional, half-century-old image of familial normalcy sitting down to dinner, we see mom in her apron, perhaps holding a laden platter; a smiling dad, his knife and fork at the ready; and two children, quite likely a curly-haired girl and a crew-cut boy. They’re white, and the meal represented at the table is a classic meat-potatoes-vegetables supper.

I want you to picture yourself holding a physical copy of that image. And I want you to picture yourself tearing it into shreds. That image never reflected reality for many families, and it definitely doesn’t reflect reality today. Holding that image as an ideal no longer serves us; probably it never did.

In Joe Pinsker’s fascinating story for The Atlantic, “Something is changing in the way people eat at home,” one of the facts reported surprised me. “In some large American cities, it’s common for almost half of households to have just one resident,” the story says.

Where people commonly light to eat their meal has also changed, the story says. People are as likely to eat their meals alone, even when they share a household with others, as they are to gather together at a table. Complex work schedules and children’s after-school activity programs are part of this. Because they’re eating alone, diners may choose to eat in their bedrooms, or while sitting on a couch. Often, there’s a screen involved — a television or computer.

Thus, the kinds of meals we prepare have also changed. Meals need to be portable, easy to handle and eat while held in the hands. A piece or two of avocado toast topped with a gently fried egg makes a fine dinner for one. So, too, a bowl of something like the photo with this post — it looks like scrambled eggs with diced potato to me — can also satisfy. Soup, especially if served with a slab of good bread, is a perennial pleaser.

Eating well doesn’t have to mean spendy ingredients and complex cooking processes to create a main dish with many sides. It’s as easy to eat well by investing 10 minutes in prep and cooking time as it is by spending hours in the kitchen. In my view, eating well does mean starting with ingredients in their natural forms, of the best quality you can afford.

Once you dump the idea that it isn’t a proper meal if the family isn’t seated at the table together to eat a multi-item meal, several things happen. You can lose the shame about not eating “like other people,” because those “other people” aren’t eating like that, either. You can re-direct that emotional energy to making sure the meals you prepare please you, however simple they may be. In doing so, you can opt out of a consumer culture that says pre-made and packaged foods are somehow superior to foods in their natural forms. You’ll quite naturally shave your food budget when you’re not buying take-out or delivery because you think you’re too tired to cook.

I love the aphorism “Live simply so others may simply live.” The internet attributes it to Mahatma Gandhi and others, but it appears to have originated with a Franciscan peace group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the ’40s.

Live simply. Eat simply. There is much to be proud of in that philosophy.

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “What makes a meal?

  1. Robin, that image was my family growing up and during most of the time that I was married with kids. Now, I am a single person in my home and do usually eat a one course meal. Occasionally, I’ll get fancy and actually cook a dinner – but usually it’s leftovers or a grilled cheese sandwich. Havarti is my favorite) But thank you for letting me not feel guilty about my meager fare.

  2. I’ve been having some issues and this speak to me very clearly. You make me think, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

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