Have you ever had dinner with a group but didn’t get to have what the others were eating because you were on a diet? If you really want to feel like a Martian, try going on a diet that comes with its own meals in little space age packets! But is it the food itself that makes a meal enjoyable, or something else?
I think the essential elements of dining pleasure are:
1. gathering together with family/friends
2. around a neat (even beautiful) table
3. sharing appealing and nutritious food
4. conversing about pleasant topics
5. showing gratitude
As a dieter, I missed out on the sharing part of meals. For years! You know how it is when someone brings a new dish and everyone tastes it? There’s that moment of silence while they’re discovering the aromas, flavors, textures, and herbs and spices. It’s fun for the cook to hear the talk about the food that follows, e.g., “What’s that I taste—thyme?” or “Yum! I’ve never had strawberries in salad before!”
When I was a kid, families ate around the table three times a day every day with few exceptions. It was cheaper, efficient, and the main way we bonded. My father offered a prayer of thanks for the food, and more often than not, asked God to bless “the hands that prepared it.” We also learned to thank my mom for making the meal and my dad for bringing home the groceries. Traditional times, those. Everyone at the table ate the same thing, except for babies with no teeth or those who were allergic. My mom usually served meat and starch (or macaroni and cheese), a hot vegetable, and a salad. If we had dessert, it was homemade cookies or ice cream. On Sundays, we might get pie or cake or fruit cobbler. That was also when my mom set an elegant table with a tablecloth and flowers from the garden. Recently I read there’s a correlation between kids’ manners and the presence of a tablecloth. Who knew?
From the time we were small, we helped peel potatoes, set and clear the table, wash and dry the dishes. One of my dad’s mottos was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” But the work wasn’t a drudgery by any means, because of the many hands who helped. (What’s that proverb—many hands make light work?) We often sang while washing and drying dishes. How else would I have ever learned to harmonize?
But I digress. The point I want to make about food is that it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be nutritious and appealing. As for conversation, it takes work to find pleasant topics that will interest everyone, and companionable silences can be relaxing, too. “A dry crust of bread eaten in peace and quiet is better than a feast eaten where everyone argues.” (Proverbs 17:1)
Now that there’s usually only two of us at mealtimes—and often just me—it’s tempting to skip some of the essential elements of dining pleasure. In fact, I’ve fallen into the habit of grabbing something and eating it while watching TV or reading a book or—horror of horrors—while driving. The result? I hardly taste my meal, don’t reflect much on my options, and get little enjoyment from even a favorite food. Couldn’t I sit at the table, offer my thanks aloud, and eat nutritious as well as appealing dishes? I’ll give it a try and let you know how it goes.
Thanks for reading!