Laurie David's new book chronicles the lost art of the family dinner. Some advice on how the rest of us might make shared meals more of a routine.
Are shared meals with friends and family a regular part of your life? If you're anything like most of us, the answer is likely no. Laurie David, environmental activist and an ex-wife of Larry David, is hoping to change that with a new book called The Family Dinner. Part-cookbook, part-shared meal bible, it chronicles her family's relationship to the lost art of eating together and offers tips for how the rest of us might make shared meals more of a routine.
GOOD: Environmental activist or radical family dinner revolutionary. Which is more fun?
LAURIE DAVID: Every issue I care about crosses the dinner table—from how far food travels to get to your plate, to how much meat we're eating. With the decline of the family dinner in the last 30 years, with the popularity of the microwave and processed foods, and not to mention the influx of women in the workplace, we've seen an explosion of health problems and it's no coincidence—it's completely connected to the fact that we're no longer eating home-cooked, fresh food anymore.
GOOD: How did this book project come about?
LD: It's the most personal thing I’ve ever done. One night, after having gone through a divorce and seen my share of ups and downs, I was sitting at the dinner table with my two teenage daughters (now 14 and 16). Dessert had been over for half an hour and my kids were still sitting at the table, talking away. I knew in that moment that I had done something right as a parent and I wanted to share the wisdom and the recipes I've learned.
GOOD: Why is sharing a meal so important?
LD: The book is for anyone, kids or no kids. Your family is whoever you sit down to a meal with; the key is how we connect to each other. For kids in particular, regular shared meals increase self-esteem, resiliency, and academic achievement. At the dinner table, kids become civilized, learning how to be patient and make conversation. Marshall Duke, a professor at Emory University, who studies rituals, recently conveyed to me what makes dinner so powerful: The dinner table is the number one place where family stories and family history is passed on. When we stop having dinner, we stop passing on these stories.
GOOD: Are you a good cook?
LD: I definitely have to follow recipes. I’m not someone who can invent recipes and I almost always leave out an ingredient. But I love to cook and I love everything about cooking, love the smells in the house, love creating the mood, love having guests over.
GOOD: Tell us about family dinner after divorce.
LD: Here’s the thing, more than half of all marriages end in divorce. When parents split up, people stop doing rituals, everyone's hurt, everyone's a mess. It's also the time families need rituals more than ever before. Family dinners got us through that miserable time and even got my ex-husband back to the table. Now we eat together as a family every other week.
GOOD: Your rituals include: Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Shabbat Friday, and "If It's Sunday, We Must Be Eating Chinese Takeout." What's your biggest tip for starting the ritual of a shared meal besides setting a regular time and drinking tap (versus bottled) water?
LD: The most important thing about the shared meal is sitting down. Your meal can be soup and a salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—not three courses and a homemade crumble from the oven. Or do ritual lunches or ritual breakfasts. The single most important thing is the yact of sitting down and talking. No screens, no phone, no TV. Your brain needs the rest. And after dinner, everyone can go back to doing their solitary thing.
Author photo credit: Maryellen Baker.