Monday, 28 February 2011

The Importance of Sharing a Meal

I come from a family who sits down and shares a meal together every night.  No TV, no balancing plates on your lap, and no shovelling grub in to your face.  We all sit around the table together and no one starts until everyone is seated.  We don’t say Grace, but we do always thank the cook for their hard work.  As we eat, we chat together and discuss our day.  We talk about school and work and what we want to do on the weekend.  If there is something the family needs to talk about, it is a comfortable environment to bring it up in.  Fears can be resolved and accomplishments celebrated.  At the end of the meal, no one leaves the table until everyone has finished eating.

This is a tradition that I was brought up with, thinking that was how everyone ate.  I’ve since found out it isn’t so.  I have however tried to instil its importance in my own children.  As my husband is a shift worker, we see it as a treat when he can sit down and join us for a meal.  It turns out that this special family time shared over a meal is actually of significant cultural importance!

Last year, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recognised the cultural significance of the French Gastronomic Meal.  It has been designated as a cultural icon alongside flamenco and acupuncture as significant components of a culture to be protected.  Incorporating 5 or so courses of food, carefully matched to wine, it is about so much more than just the meal on the table.  It recognises the importance of loved ones and family preparing and sharing a meal together, and the role of food in celebrating major milestones in life such as weddings, baptisms, birthdays and the like.

The French do not lay sole claim to this prestigious cultural honour, the Mexican Michoacan cuisine and the Mediterranean diet have also been recognised and protected for future generations.

Where does the importance of food fit in your family’s traditions?  Do you only eat certain foods at particular celebrations?  Do you have rituals around the food you eat?  Or, do you think it’s a whole lot of nonsense over something you do just to sustain yourself?

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