Dear Clara Lincoln, Hanna Walker, Kate LeBlanc, and Willis Reed,
Thank you for expressing your thoughts provoked by my article “You Are Who You Eat With.” Your varied perspectives on the value of eating with others illustrate how a simple act like sharing food can have profound effects, and how the definitions of “family” and “dinner” need not be fixed to make for a beneficial practice of “family dinner.”
Like Clara and Kate, I grew up eating dinner with my family every night. My parents, two siblings, and I would gather at the table and discuss the activities of our days as we ate. I didn’t think much about it at the time, as it never occurred to me there was another way to eat. But in retrospect I can see that it was an important touchstone of our family life. As I wrote my article for YES! I had my own family dinner experience in mind as the model, but now that I’ve read your essays I can see how many different forms this important tradition can take.
It was educational for me to hear from Clara that dinner “around a laptop” at her mom’s house feels just as grounding and enjoyable to her as eating around a table at her dad’s. Likewise, I am glad that Willis emphasized that “family” doesn’t just mean the people to whom you’re related or the people with whom you live. He points out that the firefighters he works with belong to “a brotherhood forged around the dinner table,” which clearly demonstrates the power of sharing moments over food to bring people—whether they’re family in the traditional sense or not—closer together.
I agree with Kate’s perspective that this coming-together is the central important aspect of eating together. The benefit of family dinner accrues more from the ritual of togetherness and communication than it does from the details of the food itself. This is especially true for families with kids. Kate writes that sharing details of the day over dinner creates an opportunity for kids and parents to understand each other better.
Hanna details the impact of such communication between all members of the family; her family’s organization improved when they started eating together. The family meal, she says, is “an opportunity for all of us to slow down and get our life organized and going in the right direction.” Better organization isn’t an advantage I ever would have ascribed to eating together, but Hanna’s description—along with the other perspectives each of you emphasizes—makes me realize that each group of eaters gains unique benefits from the experience of sharing those moments over dinner.
The most important aspect of this ritual isn’t the specific food or setting or relationship of the people present. The key is making a habit of sharing daily moments to foster a sense of togetherness and encourage communication.
Thank you for your eloquent responses to what I wrote. I hope you continue to enjoy eating with others throughout your lives, and that you continue writing.
READ Katherine Gustafson's article, "You Are Who You Eat With"
EXPLORE The Spring 2012 Winning Essays
Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer and editor based in the Washington, DC, area. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, about sustainable food, was published in May 2012 by St. Martin's Press.