Monday, March 5, 2012

Let Us Break Bread Together...

More like my childhood: Robert and Vivian DeRosa share
Sunday family dinner; a long-standing tradition as
Robert grew up in the same home.
Age: Robert 60, Vivian 55  Time: 5:59 PM
Location: Fresh Meadows, Queens
     When I was a kid, I ate dinner nearly every single night with my family. All five of us would sit around the dinner table and focus in on each other and the food my mom prepared.  I realize that sounds a bit like something out of Leave It To Beaver, but that's truly what we did.  It happened, in no small part, because my mom ensured it did: she was convinced that having a daily meal together as a family was essential.  So, even though her days were busy, my father was self-employed and spent most of the day and night working, and my sisters and I all had numerous after-school appointments and activities, it was a rare evening when we didn't sit down as one family and eat together. 

Story Donich, a 2 year old has dinner
while watching cartoons on her iPhone.
Age: 2  Time: 6:31 PM
Location: Sunset Park, Brooklyn
    I couldn't help but think about this when reading about a project called "Dinner in NY" by photographer Miho Aikawa, which explores the ways in which New Yorkers eat their dinners and, more importantly, what they do during dinner. In his introduction to the project, Aikawa notes that a study recently noted that we "now do almost 50% of our eating while concentrating on something else," and his photos illustrate this clearly: a large number of his subjects are watching TV, browsing the internet, and using their cell phones.  Even a two-year old child watches cartoons on her iPhone while her parents seem immersed in their own private thoughts.
    Aikawa makes a strong point: although we're spending a large part of our eating time focusing on other things, we're spending more time eating: approximately 25-30 minutes more daily than 30 years ago. Not only is all of this extra eating time likely to mean the consumption of more calories, as it's hard to know when you're full if you're distracted by other things, but it doesn't seem to provide more enjoyment. We're spending more time eating and less time really experiencing our food.

Jessie Zinke, a designer, has leftover for dinner on
her bed, while watching her favorite TV show.
Age: 27 Time: 6:54 PM
Location: Chelsea, New York
   I recently started my attempt to follow Geneen Roth's eating guidelines, and was most worried about the one that says: 
 "Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspaper, books, intense or anxiety producing conversation and music.
Yikes.  Although I'm a huge fan of eating, I'm not entirely sure if I enjoy it on its own or if it's the combination of eating and reading, eating and being on the computer, or eating and watching TV that really gives me pleasure. Afraid of being alone with my own thoughts or, worse, suffering the ultimate hell of <gasp!> boredom, I really, really didn't want to follow this guideline.  It took me a couple months to really commit to doing it at every meal. After a week or two, I was shocked to find that even eating with another person was too much of a distraction for me.  I'd become meditative about my eating experiences.  I really tasted my food, and I was much more in touch with the ways in which my body responded to it.  My thoughts became friends, and I learned to be so much more comfortable with silence and stillness in other aspects of my life.  

Looking at Aikawa's project from that perspective, then, makes me a bit sad to see how many people spend their mealtimes distracted.  Where before I would have seen joy, I now see a kind of "half-life" because it seems that the people depicted are experiencing neither of their activities fully. 

I can only hope that people will continue to find ways to connect with their loved ones and their food: some of the most hopeful photos in this project, to me, are the ones that show people eating while talking with loved ones: on Skype, over a speakerphone, or even at the same table.  Although I really enjoy my food when I focus in on it by myself, it tastes even better when I'm eating it with someone I love.  As Aikawa says, "When you enjoy mealtimes, you're more likely to eat better."  I hope we all find more ways to enjoy our mealtimes and be there fully when we're eating. 

All photos by Miho Aikawa

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