This summer while we were driving to our destination for vacation we stumbled upon a broadcast on the local NPR station. There was a very interesting program about fast food. They talked about the history of American fast food. The fast food definition being used- mass produced food served quickly. Generally it is associated as nutritionally poor, calorie dense food. They noted that although White Castle was the first "fast food" it wasn't until Ray Croc purchased the McDonald brothers business that the modern era of fast food was born.
Fast food is not a modern invention. Ready cook food for sale has been part of the urban scene from the beginning of cities. In Ancient Rome there were street stands- places where one could purchase ready made food. With industrialization, there became a need for quick hot food for the factory workers. Productivity and time management was the driving force behind how we shaped our days. The workers had to quickly eat in order to get back to work. Over a hundred years later and we still have the same issues.
Yesterday as I was walking the dogs, we walked past a stop light. I found it amazing that almost every driver and passenger in every waiting car was eating something. In one SUV there was a couple- husband driving, wife in passenger seat and both were chowing down what obviously looked like their dinner. It made me recall a commentary I heard on the radio many years ago. The host was interviewing another journalist who had just come back to living in the US after spending many years as the Tokyo correspondence. When asked what was his first impression upon returning to the U.S., the journalist noted that he had forgotten how Americans eat in their cars. He said that he rarely, if ever saw that in Japan.
I thought how sad. What are we accomplishing here? Is it really a time saver to eat on the run?
I am the first to admit that I have eaten in my car especially when I was traveling for work. And as a family, we have also eaten in the car. I might be missing an occasion but I think the only times we have done a family meal in the car were when we were traveling and we either had our dogs with us and didn't want to leave them in the car or it was pouring rain and we had originally planned to picnic.
I understand that there are times when it happens but as a routine outing I wonder what it does for us in the long run? Certainly there are studies that suggest many benefits to sitting down at a table to eat as opposed to standing at the sink, sitting on the couch watching TV or eating while driving in a car. The act of sitting at a meal table generally slows one down in the eating process. It takes about twenty minutes for your brain to register that you are satiated with what is in your stomach. Slowing down to eat, chewing more and savoring your food allows your body to process what is coming in. Without shoveling as fast as one can, you don't mindlessly ingest unnecessary calories which can lead to extra glucose or salt laden food that can develop into diabetes or heart disease. If it is a shared meal, there is community building. For meals with small children, language development occurs, values transmitted, and habits are relayed. For some, the process of preparing, serving, eating and cleaning up can be relaxing and a needed distraction to the day.
Sitting down to a meal is a necessary and built in break to our day. In a way, what better use of our break time than to replenish our bodies with food?
I know that I eat way too quickly even when sitting at the dining room table. I sometimes look at the day-to-day process of meal planning and eating as a necessary but bothersome duty, kind of like taking CPR classes- have to do it but if there were any other way around it I would gladly participate. I am ready to get on to the next thing but really I need to ask- why? Why cannot I just enjoy a few minutes of food and conversation?
I have been challenging myself this fall to chew slowly and to savor the colors, smells, taste of the food on my plate.
What about you? Do you find that most of your meals take place in your car or your couch? Is there a way you can try to eat one of those meals at a table? Do you gulp down your food in order to get on to the next thing? Can you slow down, maybe adding an extra ten or even twenty minutes to your meal time?
Are you subject to fast food?