Recipe for success: the family dinner

June 12, 2000|By Jim Sollisch

CLEVELAND -- Coming soon to a convenience store near you: scrambled eggs on a stick. Next to which you'll find chili in a cup and macaroni and cheese in a tube. Welcome to the next wave of food technology, portable eatability.

The goal is to make it easier to eat while you drive so you can save a few more valuable units of time in your day. Never mind that if we look at everything our moms did to get dinner on the table, we're about three hours ahead already. It's hard to believe that mom prepared our food using knives, egg beaters, rolling pins and other tools from the prehistoric era. Then she cooked it for one hour at 350 degrees. Didn't matter what it was -- it cooked for an hour.

Now most people think they're cooking if they arrange the prepared food on a plate. Which gets us back to scrambled eggs on a stick, whose enemy is the plate.

Without a plate, you can drive while you eat, licking scrambled eggs like Popsicles and saving time all the while. If time is money, our savings rate should be sky high. Our wallets should be overflowing with leisure. We save time every day by e-mailing instead of faxing, by banking on-line instead of in line. So why is everyone so pressed for time? Why is it that the more we save, the more we spend doing things we don't really want to do?

I think there comes a point at which you just have to put your foot down. You have to stand up and shout: I will not eat scrambled eggs on a stick. I will not eat them in a car, I will not eat them in a bar. I will not eat them on the run, I will not eat them just for fun.

Sociologists have been telling us for years that when they study kids who don't do drugs and don't get into trouble, the one variable that cuts across all socioeconomic lines is that these kids live in families that eat dinner together. And they don't mean dinner on a stick in a moving car. They mean dinner at a table with real forks and plates. You remember. Where you ask everyone how their day went and, even if they give pat answers, there's still the human connection of passing the mashed potatoes.

I am obsessed with the family dinner. If it were an object, I would keep it in a safe. If it were an idea, I would enshrine it in a constitution. The family dinner is where I choose to make my stand.

My kids ask me why I go through such trouble to make dinner from scratch, why, for example, I have to go to three stores on the way home just to find fresh rosemary.

Why can't we be like other families, they whine. I don't have a good answer. But they stop whining when I serve Indian food, and I tell them about the time my father and I ate Tandoori chicken in a little restaurant in Toronto and how the cook showed us the clay ovens he'd brought over from India.

They know that when I make chicken soup, I puree all the vegetables in a foley mill because that's how my grandmother did it. And on their birthdays, my kids know I'll make them whatever they ask for, provided it can't be eaten on the run, it can't be eaten on a bun, it can't be taken from a jar, it can't be eaten in a car.

Jim Sollisch comments on social issues for National Public Radio and newspapers nationwide.

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