View Full Version : ARTICLE: Dieting tends to promote eating food individually

09-17-2004, 06:35 PM
Diets tend to promote eating food individually
By Gwyn Mellinger

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Food traditionally has had the capacity for bringing people together. Eating a meal with others -- or breaking bread, if you prefer -- is a communal experience that unites us. For that brief period of time, we bridge our differences as we sustain our bodies and, some would argue, our souls.

This view of eating has been under strain since the family dinner began its decline in the wake of World War II. With the rise of the two-income family and the increasing role of television in American home life, many families exchanged the nightly communal dining experience around the kitchen table for separate TV dinners eaten on separate TV trays.

That shift from eating at the larger, shared table to little, individual tables was more than just symbolic. People's focus also shifted from each other to the television screen. Since then, the continued evolution of prepared foods, and the embrace of the microwave as an indispensable kitchen appliance, have allowed many Americans to eat without sitting down at any kind of table at all.

Not surprisingly, the concept of eating meals with friends, not just family, has taken it on the chin as well.

While plenty of folks have resisted this trend, eating has become an increasingly individualized activity.

In recent years, as many people have made dieting a lifestyle, that portion of the population that is constantly trying to lose weight has segmented as well. It used to be that people merely watched calories; now we subscribe to individual diet plans that regiment everything we eat.

It occurred to me recently that the loyalty we show to one diet or another, and the zeal with which some of us advocate our diet of choice, is almost political. We label ourselves as low-fat or low-carb -- which are opposing camps, to be sure -- and then we fragment into sub-sets represented by Weight Watchers, South Beach, Atkins, etc.

What this does is narrow even further our possibilities for communal eating and the social interaction it represents. If you're living the low-carb life, you can't dine at the home of your low-fat friends.

Breaking bread is quite literally taboo for a growing portion of the U.S. population.

Bottom line: Our eating habits are becoming as polarized as our politics -- and this doesn't even consider the issues between the carnivores and the vegetarians, the latter being divided into the vegan, ovo, lacto and ovo-lacto splinter groups. Rather than something that unites us, food can be the basis for more division.

And as the political season churns toward Election Day, don't be surprised if food creeps into the presidential campaign. Already, John Kerry's favorite Kansas City barbecue and whether George W. Bush dislikes broccoli, like his father, have made the news. While it would be unfortunate if any voter cast a ballot based on a candidate's food preferences, it wouldn't be wholly out of step with Americans' divisive attitudes about eating.

09-17-2004, 08:35 PM
Great article!!