The Family Table Part 1

Family Table
Here’s a rare photo of a family meal with friends. At the far end my grandfather is carving the meat and my mother is standing just to his right. My brother and sister can be seen next to them. I was still a twinkle in my mother’s eye….

At my house, we eat home-cooked fresh vegetables daily. My wife and I enjoy experimenting with cooking by preparing the veggies in many different ways—for instance, trying out recipes from a broad variety of cultures. We are adventurous eaters, eager to try new plant foods, seasonings, herbs, and cooking styles.

I recently attended a gathering with some friends, some old, and some new. As is often the case at these affairs, it was a “pot-luck” dinner with each family contributing a dish. An interesting intersection of cultures ensued.

One friend had deep-fried a turkey. Another made a green salad. Someone brought yams baked in a sweet syrup. There were cheesy mashed potatoes and green beans with ham. My wife had made roasted vegetables (radishes, golden beets, and Brussels sprouts) with tahini dressing and Z’atar. She had also made fresh chimichurri sauce as a hostess gift to serve alongside the turkey. As folks went through the buffet line, it was interesting to hear their questions and observations about the food. Most people had seen a Brussels sprout, but many had never seen golden beets, or conceived of roasting radishes (or indeed any vegetable). No one knew what Tahini was, nor had anyone heard of chimichurri sauce. And we won’t even talk about the Z’atar.

We both fielded questions about Middle Eastern food, the origin of the spices and sauce on the veggies, as well as the Argentinean custom of serving vinegary, parsley-and-cilantro-laden chimichurri sauce with meat that figures so prominently in South American culture. Its digestive benefits were discussed. Our fellow diners found that they liked these new foods, and some asked for cooking instructions.

Then the conversation turned to cooking in general. Several agreed that life was already too demanding to add grocery shopping and food preparation to their list of things to do. When we asked what they did for their meals, most replied that they either grazed or ate takeout. Turns out that preparing and sharing a real meal of home-cooked foods together was a rarity for most of our friends.

I realize that with the hectic pace of life, preparing and sharing healthy meals as a family might be a luxury, but it is one well worth doing whenever possible. Food prepared thoughtfully by loving hands and shared together with loved ones is one of the most family-supportive activities we can pursue. We get to spend quality time in conversation, hearing about each other’s day. We get to experience other cultures through embracing their different styles of cooking and eating. We literally create shared chemistry through shared foods. The frenetic pace of living slows down, we have a deep breath or ten, and we feel calmer and more satisfied. We leave the table rested, nourished, recharged, and ready to take on the next tasks in life.

Maybe cooking a full meal together isn’t practical for your family. Maybe you can’t or don’t like to cook, or maybe every family member is on a different schedule. Perhaps your finances are limited. How can you work with these issues? Small changes, implemented over time, seem to be the best bet. Check back next week for a few ideas that can get families cooking and/or eating healthy foods together in small ways.