It is six o’clock and my mother tells me to start laying the table for my father’s dinner. He will soon be home from work. My mother was busy working in her haberdashery shop, and our house was attached to the back of it. I entered the kitchen as I did every time my dad finished his factory shift, to hurry and make it look like we had been preparing his meal for the past hour. I was to boil a kettle to create steam, mist up the windows and cut up some cabbage to boil the living daylights out of it. This was the daily ritual of creating a meal we would all be expected to partake in.
When my father arrived home to this welcoming domestic scene of delight, we would huddle around the small Formica kitchen table to exchange the happenings of the day. We ate together not for sustenance but for communication. It was a ritual, a family ritual and we did it at the same time every day except Sundays.
Sunday’s were different. The meal was different, it was greater, there would be a pudding, sometimes there were guests and my mother spent a lot more time creating it. We did not go to church or think of Sunday as a religious day. But it was a different day and that mattered. Because it mattered, there was more food prepared. This was fifty years ago. It seems like an age.
The importance of mealtime rituals for many have diminished into a distant memory as we shrug and sit separately in our own corners at a time we choose between work and Netflix, frolicking with some fast food ready meal a bloke has just delivered to the front door. It is just for filling, we are like cars guzzling up with gas so we can just keep running. Mealtimes have lost their meaning and I witness it far too often. A simple meal together can achieve more than relieving hunger. It should be a time that is valued, a time of exchange and learning.
As time has passed I can see no benefit to the way we have all moved into quick fast convenience. I have been a busy mum with little time, however, I always wanted my family to share mealtimes and celebrations. They listened to grown-up conversations and we heard about their school days. It was the time we used to come together and feel grounded.
Food has always played a part in celebrations, rituals, and traditions, Food has a place in holidays – Christmas, Easter, Divali, Valentines, Halloween. I could go on.
I sadly see changes with birthday celebrations. There was a time when a cake had been prepared with love by an adoring Aunt or cousin, now it is picked up from a supermarket and the personalized decor is a sugary transfer of Peppa pig. Kids’ party food has become quick easy pizza and chips in some cold organized venue where the entertainment is a woman in a wig from a Disney cartoon and the staff have no idea what the name of the child is. This is far from a celebration or am I just getting old? I remember the parties where the fun was in the creation. Families came together to celebrate and YES, what happened to fairy cakes, jelly and pass the parcel. Tradition or ritual, are we moving on or have we forgotten why we made such an effort back then?
Stop for one moment and think. Why are we putting less value on the time we spend sharing food.
Sharing a meal on a first date is not practised because we are hungry for food, hungry for love maybe. It is the time spent sharing the meal that is important
“Come round for dinner” is an invitation that has remained so for generations. The offering of food to a friend, or a relation says more than we want to feed you, we are saying ‘we want to spend time with you.
I live alone but I am lucky enough to have the time to socialize. I have been working recently running events attached to a cafe bar in our local town. I sometimes eat alone there, but I never feel alone. I like the atmosphere and I often have the opportunity to share a meal or a drink with a friend. Running events I see people coming together. We have just started a walking group where we share a breakfast every day following an early morning walk. I overheard two ladies chatting where one said it was good value, she explained it was not the cost of the food that gave it the value but the time spent sharing the meal with new friends. Breakfast is 7.50 Euros, Time spent walking and sharing the meal – PRICELESS.
Whichever way you choose to eat your meals, try and be mindful about understanding the value and let your next meal be food for thought. Be grateful to the person who grew it, prepared it, cooked, and served it. There are people in this world who really are hungry and will not have a meal tonight. At least we can savor the opportunity and understand the value of what it costs to put food on the table. No wonder we have always made it into a ritual.