Everyone complains about family dinner. So says Sarah Bowen in a study that tries to show how unrealistic it is for anyone to expect that women (or anyone) would be sufficiently competent to prepare family dinners on a daily basis.
Bowen is the researcher whose study into the “burden” of feeding a family has warmed feminist hearts and minds.
Note that the question, as Bowen framed it and as Amanda Marcotte and now Anna North articulated it, always revolves around an injustice. Women are unduly burdened with the responsibility for preparing family dinners. Men barely contribute. Children are ungrateful wretches who are always complaining. Obviously, the situation calls for government intervention.
Did it strike anyone that Bowen’s study, to say nothing of the feminist cheerleading it inspired, is one large complaint. If you ask where children learned to complain, you do not have to look very far.
But, more importantly, the feminist critique of the injustice of family dinner leaves out one crucial element. It ignores the many studies that show family dinners to be of enormous benefit to a child’s psychosocial development.
Why is this not relevant? Why is the well-being of children so easily tossed aside in favor of a perceived injustice?
Why, pray tell, does that not provide a sufficient motivation for these modern superwomen to get their acts together and put something nourishing on the table each night? In most families, it does not even matter that it is all that nourishing. When it comes to food children are notoriously easy to please.
If, however, a modern woman is following Michelle Obama’s nutritional guidelines in her home cooking, she is likely to meet with resistance.
If a woman decides that every family dinner must be a gourmet extravaganza or even a vegetarian delight she will be misreading her family. Most families do not require a grand production. Most children prefer Big Macs to carrot sticks.
As for Bowen’s whine about how expensive fresh produce is, she should try Walmart. Besides, frozen produce is often better than fresh, anyway. Vegetables that are flash frozen when harvested are probably fresher than the ones that were trucked cross the country in refrigerated containers.
To her great credit Anna North balances her report on Sarah Bowen with some real-life reports about family dinners in poor families.
In her words:
The poet Kima Jones recently conducted her own survey of family food traditions: For an essay at Scratch, she asked 29 poets, “What did your mother teach you to always have in the house in case of hunger and no money?” The answers she got ranged from bologna to cassava bread to “Savings. You can always turn that into food.”
Many of the poets she talked to grew up poor, but her survey painted a more optimistic picture than Ms. Bowen’s research. She told Op-Talk that a lot of the stories she heard involved extended families coming together — the poets “talked about their grandmothers, their aunts, their uncles. There were always these reservoirs to tap into and this community where, we don’t have a potato, but we have some rice, some string beans, we have some stew meat, and we’re going to make a meal out of this.”
Growing up, she said, “I don’t remember ever not eating and not eating well, even though we were definitely working poor.” Now she lives far away from her mother, and eating dinner with her “is the thing I miss most.” And when she visits her mother in New York, she never eats out: “As long as my mother’s on the face of this earth, and as long as she’s making dinner, I’m eating dinner.”