Mealtimes are about more than just food
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider the value of time spent eating together (SEAL theme: Social Skills).
Preparation and materials
- None required
- What’s your favourite meal? Talk to one another and be prepared to share what you hear.
Pause to allow time for thought and discussion.
Let’s listen to a few of the answers you gave. Don’t tell me your own reply, though; tell me what someone else said to you.
Listen to a range of responses, which is likely to consist largely of types of food.
- Thanks for that, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. The question was ‘What’s your favourite meal?’ not ‘What’s your favourite food?’
You might have answered with ‘breakfast’, ‘lunch’ or ‘tea’. You might have said ‘Christmas dinner’ or ‘birthday tea’. This morning, I’m interested in the context in which we eat our favourite foods.
- Some meals, such as breakfast, are often taken in a rush. You may not even sit down to eat it - there’s not enough time. Other meals might be eaten on your own, on a tray in front of the TV. Alternatively, you might be eating in the same room with others, but because you’re concentrating on the TV, none of you actually communicate. In many families, it’s become rare for everyone to sit down together, to share a meal and to chat. I wonder, is that good or are we losing something?
- Many of the world’s religions place importance on shared meals.
- Muslims celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast with a huge feast.
- Hindus, Sikhs and Jains enjoy the Diwali meal, which can go on for five days.
- Every Friday evening, Jews gather in families for Shabbat, a meal in which every element is symbolic, reminding them of their history.
- Christians, and many who have no faith or other faiths, share Christmas dinner, remembering the birth of Jesus. Christians also celebrate Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, when they eat a piece of bread and have a sip of red wine, to remember the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified.
Time for reflection
The most significant feature of all of these meals is that they are shared. People gather, usually in families, and eat together. People on their own and those who are living away from their families are invited to become part of the gathering. This is to demonstrate that there is a shared set of values, usually a shared religious faith.
What’s important here is that there is an expression of community. People are talking to one another, remembering the shared experiences and catching up on the latest news or getting to know strangers and making new friends. The meal is a time of building relationships as well as eating, enjoyable though the experience of good food and drink is.
I want to suggest to you today that sharing meals is a vital part of building a shared life for all of us. If you go out for pizza with your friends, it’s the chat that’s as important as the thick crust/thin crust, stringy cheese and hot pepperoni of the food. You are building relationships that will be there for you when times get tough, when you feel lonely, when you need a friend. For some of you, going for a meal with a potential girlfriend or boyfriend is part of building a deeper relationship. It’s the listening and talking that means as much as the food. So it is with families.
We aren’t made to be alone. We all need other people, even if some of us are less socially minded than others. Families are the main building block for being together in our communities. We are part of our families, but the relationship that a family provides needs to be nourished. This is very important when families join together with step-parents and step-brothers and -sisters. We need to talk to one another, listen to one another, show an interest in one another’s lives and remember together the shared experiences from the past, both pleasant and unpleasant. We need to acknowledge our differences, too, to discuss them and give one another the freedom to be individuals. We need to cement the trust and support that means that we can share hopes and fears, successes and failures.
Some experts argue that regular shared meals are one of the best means of being a close family. If it can be achieved every day, that’s great, but it’s not always practical. However, once or twice a week might be a more realistic target. How can we achieve this? We have control of our own timetables. Can we make it a priority to be available, to fit in with others? If we show flexibility, maybe it will encourage others to do so, too. If we show that it’s important to us, and explain why, maybe we can persuade others to join us.
So, to go back to my initial question, ‘What’s your favourite meal?’ Is it one that we share with people who are important to us? Maybe friends? Or family?
Thank you for the security and support of being part of a family.
Remind us of our responsibility to nourish these relationships.
May we draw into our family anyone who is alone, so that they can be part of our community.
‘We are family’ by Sister Sledge (and point out that it’s for the brothers, too!)