Some food for thought
With television invading our homes, time spent with family at mealtimes is fast getting reduced
Photo: N. Sridharan
WILL THE FAMILY DINE TOGETHER? These days meals seem to be scheduled around the television with little time for conversation
There was this article a short while ago (by Chris Ayers, in the Times, U.K.) — a thought-provoking one — about a new restaurant in the U.S., which apparently offers its patrons an interactive dining experience. The idea is simply this — you walk in, customise your order from your individual touch-screen, sit around, eat, play games/ watch movie trailers, burp gently, and… that’s it, you go home! No human interaction, no waiters to smile at, just you and a bunch of computers for company. As a concept, if it were, say, launched about 50 years ago, it would’ve been considered ridiculous.But coming as it does, at a time when millions do pretty much the same thing at home, it’s a model that’s bound to take-off; an idea that will be welcomed by all those eat in in front of the television/ computer.
But, this isn’t really a treatise on respecting food.Rather, this is about the days when the family used to sit around the table, and go through pots of steaming food course by course, chatting, laughing, and trading gossip. All this was, of course, before television conquered the living room.
Multi-tasking at mealtimes
No meal these days is considered complete without a dash of television. What started, as a convenience — bunging the child in front of the television, distracting them, getting them to swallow ‘vile’ greens — is now a full-blown crisis. All society’s big troubles (rising childhood obesity, crumbling family structures, appalling table manners…) are regularly laid at the golden feet of the television.
“When my children have the television on, they are like zombies. I could be choking to death right there, and they wouldn’t even notice!” says Pankaja, journalist.
“When my daughter was little, she would absent-mindedly swallow anything I shoved in, even the fruit-purees that she detested, just as long as she got to watch her favourite advertisements. Now, the same girl is almost like a ‘pouched-rat’! She stores the food in her mouth, too engrossed to swallow, while she’s in front of the television! Cutting back television time is an obvious solution; except, it isn’t just her that’s addicted to it!” laments Amrita, homemaker. Clearly, when the entire family schedules dinner around their favourite programmes, it seems a tad unfair to pick on just the children, doesn’t it?
“When our children were young, my husband simply banished paper, books, or television watching from meal times. It worked. Maybe because they were in school and full of stories to narrate? But, anyway, now that they’re grown-up, they spend meal times sms-ing their friends! Why, the husband himself sneaks his Sudoku to the table!” says Preetha, media person.
“The net result is,one loses all interest in turning out good meals. Just any old thing would do. And that is such a dampener, not to mention all the arguments about which channel to watch,” adds Pankaja.
Turn back the clock
How about bringing back the good old days? It would be lovely, wouldn’t it, to usher back those genteel times, when the whole family conversed as opposed to grunted to each other, knew who liked brinjal and who didn’t, what this one’s teacher said, what that one’s boss said, how dear tomatoes were getting.
“Television has largely killed all bonding, intelligent conversation or anything even remotely resembling quality family time,” says Pankaja.
“At my place, I’m the last soldier standing. It’s awful, you know, to have had something (engaging dinner conversations) and then to lose it,” adds Preetha.
In principle, turning back the clock shouldn’t take longer than a couple of ticks. One should be able to, instantaneously, get back to a time when festivals simply meant vadai, payasam, curry and kootu eaten off large, shiny banana leaves; not a frantic flipping between channels to catch both the sensational interview with the reigning glamour-goddess as well as the fiery debate in the pattimandram, and bite hastily, distractedly, into a soft, crumbly poli.
“Sometimes it makes me wonder,” says Pankaja, “are the remote-control and the digestive tract in any way connected?” If so, it’s certainly going to take a lot more than wishful thinking to get the television out, and the conversation back in. But it will be worth the trouble, won’t you say?
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