As I have noted previously, the Slow Food Movement started out as a reaction against fast food, and advocates everything healthy, good, sustainable, and fair that fast food is not. While this column is written in support of the Slow Food Movement, specifically as it applies to the Pelham Convivium (our fancy but appropriate name for Chapter or Branch), its content sometimes wanders pretty widely from the stated doctrine and aims of the International Movement. But any organization that is as big (more than 100,000 members) and broad (more than 150 countries) as Slow Food has to admit a great deal of variation within its stated principles, so I don’t feel too bad if I sometimes stray from orthodoxy.
However, I have written twice previously on a subject that hits right at the heart of what Slow Food is all about, and I’m about to make that three times. Back in 2008 I first wrote about the importance of family meal times. I felt the subject was so important I repeated it the following year. It’s now time to revisit this most important of all of Slow Food’s ideas.
Here are the facts: eating together as a family will increase a child’s grades, reduce the likelihood of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, decrease the incidence of teen obesity, and reduce the rate of adolescent depression. The more often a family sits down to a meal together, the greater the beneficial effects.
Many studies have been conducted to arrive at these results. The University of Minnesota’s is typical. They conducted a huge study on the subject, and statistically eliminated from their results all other factors like income, family dynamics, and location. Their conclusion was unambiguous: “Sitting down as a family at mealtimes was the primary cause of significant improvements in children’s health and wellbeing, especially among girls.” The more often the study groups sat down as families at mealtimes, the greater the benefits. And among the benefits noted were better academic performance, reduction in tobacco, substance, and alcohol use, and improved mental health.
Of course, it helps if the meal that the family sits down to is healthy, nutritious, tasty, and home-cooked. The benefits also are more evident if the TV is turned off along with cell phones, video games, iPods, Blackberries, Wi units, computers, e-readers, and all other sundry electronics. But even if the meal is takeout and the TV is on, the act of sitting down together as a family at mealtimes is a beginning point that can lead to a more satisfying and “convivial” family dinnertime with all the potential benefits noted above.