Rhiannon Harries: 'I'll toast the family meal – but let's not pretend it's always been perfect'

Share
Related Topics

The revered American food writer Michael Pollan has much to say about what is wrong with the way we eat now. In his latest book, Food Rules, he gets his teeth into the babel of fad diets, official recommendations and pseudo-science that surrounds the food we choose.

It is hard to quibble with most of his resulting judgements: eat more veg; stop before you're full; eat food made by humans, not machines. So simple, they are, in fact, genius. But a comment Pollen made in an article about the US food movement in The New York Review of Books last month has had foodie feminists and feminist foodies foaming at the mouth.

Referring to a new book by Janet A Flammang, The Taste of Civilization, Pollan writes: "In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating 'foodwork' – everything involved in putting meals on the family table – we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal."

Rather a fan of his, I was ready to give Pollan the benefit of the doubt here on the grounds that he is précising someone else's argument (albeit uncritically), and as far as I can make out he wants everybody to get back into the kitchen and don a pinny, not just us women.

What is a little concerning about both writers' apparent line of thought, though, is that the key to our health and happiness seems to lie in some mythical past where every family meal resembled a Bisto ad.

Eating with others, at a table, can be a lovely thing – when all my flatmates are out of an evening, I find a quote from Jean Baudrillard's America, "He who eats alone is dead", on loop in my head as I nibble my toast. But the idea that we will find a "nursery of democracy" by looking back to meals past seems romantic in the extreme.

Has the British family meal historically been such a great social institution? Wealthy Victorians, for example, adored a formal mealtime so much that they invented an extra one – afternoon tea – but kids ate with their nannies until they were old enough to learn to grasp that mouths were for eating, not speaking, at table.

Even the happy, noisy family meals I remember from my own childhood were hardly lessons in citizenship – as the youngest, I never lifted a finger to help with cooking or clearing (probably partly why I find myself eating toast for dinner quite often), and I still know plenty of families where boys are similarly excused.

So yes, indeed Mr Pollan, let's get families cooking and conversing around the table together. Just don't try to tell us it was ever thus.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?