MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 13th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. It’ll soon be time for feasting, and WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney advises we notice more than just the food.
JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: When my husband and I married, I was no cook. I could bake some, but man does not live by cookies alone. So my man insisted I sign up for a cooking class at the local college. Practically speaking, that was the best class I ever took—much preferable to food poisoning.
My first kitchen was smaller than a walk-in closet, with an apartment-sized gas oven and a plywood countertop. Starting there, I produced at least one meal per day. By the time we were homeschooling our kids, it was three meals a day, seven days a week.
That might have been a rarity then, but even more now. The decline in family mealtimes naturally corresponds with the decline in families, but even intact families sit down to a meal much less often than they did 50 years ago.
An Atlantic article titled “How Americans Lost Dinner” blames hectic schedules and less time. Even Blue Apron, claims the writer, takes too much time: “Right now, a box of food from a meal-kit company is probably moldering in my apartment building’s mail room.” Scratch cooking may soon be a niche field left largely to the “experts.”
“Losing dinner” may seem the least of our worries. Still, we miss it. Spooning mac and cheese out of the saucepan directly into one’s mouth is the height of efficiency, but strikes most of us as slightly barbaric. No other creature invests eating with something like ceremony. Whether “dressing for dinner” or setting the table for soup-and-a-sandwich, humans tend to give meals an importance beyond consuming calories.
In his 1969 book, Chance or the Dance? Thomas Howard contrasts the “old myth,” or religious worldview, with the new: the old “saw the world as image; the new sees it as a chance linkage of physical events.”
In other words, to a believer, everything in the world speaks of something beyond it, even sitting down to dinner. To a secularist, nothing means anything unless you want it to.
The Bible cloaks mealtimes with great significance, from the elaborate ritual of Passover to a picnic on the beach with the risen Christ. Pilgrims to Jerusalem could look forward to fellowship offering, when families were invited to bring any meat they desired to the altar, to “eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26-27)[JD1] . Passing around the goat kebabs reminded the Lord’s people of his blessings. Passing around the communion bread and wine reminds us of the Lamb of God, but also anticipates his wedding feast.
Research has supposedly proven many benefits of families eating together, from higher self-esteem to lower obesity. Those benefits are not in the meal itself, but in the importance the family gives to the meal—the ritual of preparation and table setting and giving thanks. While gathering around the Thanksgiving table, give thanks for that, too—the image that connects us to forever.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.