Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Food for the Journey

A story on NPR this morning discussed the "growing problem" of obesity among the French. Apparently, the French are breaking with their traditional meal practices and moving toward fast food. One researcher lamented the loss of the three traditional benefits of eating: nutrition, pleasure and community. Apparently, you lose all three with fast food.

I was particularly taken with the idea that the French (and obviously Americans too) are losing the benefit of eating as community. You hear a lot about the deterioration of the family caused by a lack of family meals, but even the family meal (which usually means nuclear family) is itself a potential enemy of the community meal. How often do modern familes invite others over for dinner anymore? My experience is that it just doesn't happen.

The gospel of Luke is famously replete with scenes of eating, but eating as a form of community is rapidly disappearing. We often joke about the Lutheran predilection for potlucks, but it seems to me we could do with a few more of them.


Dizziness said...

You might be interested in some reflections I wrote after our visit to France this Christmas:

"Chris, that sounds great. I think you’re right — we don’t slow enough at all. We’re such a fast-paced, get-ahead-of-the-game culture here that we don’t allow ourselves the pleasure. Economic circumstances deny us that pleasure as well. Next time you’re at one of those black holes like Applebees (the worst of them all) or Cracker Barrel, count how many times someone tries to clear your plates so they can get more people in. Not only would eating slower make everyone more healthy, it would also allow everyone to really respect food, I think. The wine courses help tremendously, too. The French really know how to do it.

Jason: Indeed! Ten days of pretty intense eating and I only packed on a couple pounds. We noted even on the first day that there just weren’t that many overweight people in the city. I think the walking, city transit, and two hour lunch break really make a difference. There weren’t snack machines on every corner. I think they don’t snack all that much either. A quick walk through an American grocery shows isles and isles of snack food… or as we affectionately call it “junk food.” In the country, more weight gain was seen but not like in America.

I think the economic argument is lame and yet real. I think we could return to a local agrarian culture if we axed things like the farm bill and gave incentives instead for shorter transits. Penalize those who insist on out of season produce and promote local growers. I think most people don’t care though and will continue the Wal-mart mentality out of economic necessity (we do!) Of course they seemed to live much more frugally when it came to material possessions too."

and then later:

"I had an interesting discussion with Angela about the European family. At least in this case, there were strong bonds around the dinner table, sharing in spirits, and the giving the time to talk. Our family meals, even on holidays rarely exceed maybe 1.5 hours. In our time here in France, we’ve had countless meals of three or more hours. In my exegetical courses at Seminary we often discuss the Biblical concept of table fellowship, especially in reference to the Lord’s Supper. Here in the old country I think they can better comprehend what it means to sit and have dinner. We have only a limited understanding of what the Bible means when it says to come to the table and eat. We think only of the food and not the cultural weight that it carries. To come to dinner is to be united as friends… even transcending the limits of language and etiquette. These two families… the Haak and the Flauss families are not simply joined by the marriage of Angela and GrĂ©gory but by the bonds of fellowship. Its not easily explained but I think everyone here can acknowledge what has happened."

Andy said...

Wow, a three-hour dinner. My six-year old daughter would fit right in, but I can hardly imagine it.

Tom in Ontario said...

Interesting point about potlucks. We're actually planning to have more of them here at the church. Trying out monthly potlucks after worship.

But I've never thought of potlucks at home. We rarely have people over for dinner. Probably more often in summer when we bbq. But invite people over once in a while and ask them to bring something? Something worth pondering.