We learn so much about life over meals.
The year was 1977. Mark and his brother got picked up by Grammy and Grampy in their Chrysler (with automatic windows!) to eat lunch and see a play at the Children’s Theatre, something we did every other month or so. Every part of this time together was special – it even felt that way then – but particularly so the lunch.
The meal was when we actually spent time interacting. It was where we really got to know our grandparents. It was where we learned vital life skills … like “The Boardinghouse Reach.”
One Sunday we skipped the cafeteria that was our usual haunt and went to a restaurant. It had big tables and REALLY big milkshakes. With as little self-control then as he has now, Mark finished his entire milkshake before lunch even arrived.
Fortunately, Grampy was watching and noticed that Mark’s younger brother still had quite a bit of his milkshake left. Grampy explained that in years gone by, children living in boardinghouses had to fend for themselves at mealtime. He then proceeded to show Mark how to reach across the table, sneak a sip of his brother’s milkshake, then set it back down as if nothing had happened … voilá, “The Boardinghouse Reach.”
The memory of that bond, that shared experience, is as vivid today as it was the moment it happened. It did not take place in the car ride; it didn’t happen during the play that day. It didn’t happen after church or while visiting with parents. It happened over a shared meal.
Flash to Sea-Tac Airport a few weeks ago. We were enjoying a meal and conversing before an overnight flight, excited at the prospect of seeing friends and a week’s vacation.
We sat down in the airport’s large rotunda, the one with a half-dozen restaurants and a line of rocking chairs that follows the contour of the huge, floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that looks out over the tarmac and runways.
At the neighboring table we observed three generations of women – from age 4 to age 54 — sitting at their table together, but alone. The grandchild was engrossed in her tablet computer, oblivious to the world around her. The mother was texting like mad, hardly even looking up to acknowledge the wait person. The grandmother was equally involved in her mobile device. They did not interact with each other the entire time they were there.
Granted, we observed only a snapshot of this family. But the snapshot we saw struck both of us as really sad. That single meal was ripe with lost opportunity. The location was memorable – that huge glass wall is really something. Through the glass, airplanes take off and land non-stop, arriving and departing from all over the world. People at nearby tables conversed in foreign languages. Everybody was getting ready to go somewhere. There was so much to talk about!
When we arrived at our “off Peninsula” destination, we watched countless families engaged in the same ritual. Sitting down together in amazing and memorable places, at special times, eating meals not together, but next to each other. Mobiles out, fingers limber, attention focused on the tiny screen in their hands.
We began to lose our connection to food itself years ago. Now we are rapidly losing the connections we make with others over food.
What does it mean that the person, song, video or article on the other end of the mobile device is more important than the person sitting across from you? What does it mean for our collective future that we spend more time self-selecting “input” than having vital conversations that truly build the connections of family and friendship?
We don’t have the answers, but can’t help being struck by the question. Who knows … maybe it just means we are growing old and curmudgeonly.
Regardless, we raise a toast to putting the device away when sitting down for a meal. To eating well and being well!
Mark Ozias and Lisa Boulware are owners of The Red Rooster Grocery. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.