The Traditional Family Meal–with Smartphones and June Cleaver

The sanctity of the family dinner table received several tweaks lately. A Taiwan company makes a table with the food heating component in the middle, and the unit will only warm the items if diners place their smartphones in an attached tray. An Australian device is a bit sneakier—a covert switch is hidden inside a pepper grinder, and with a surreptitious toggle, phone reception at the table is blocked.
Even though many think digital devices have ruined the ambience of the family meal, these solutions could cause some indigestion. Imagine that moment when a teen’s Instagram app goes blank. Susie looks up from her screen and says, “Hey, who’s that kid sitting at the end of the table?”
Her mom sets the pepper grinder down and replies, “That’s your eight-year-old brother. Be nice to him—he’s distraught because his Angry Birds game just fizzled on his screen. By the way, his name is Dennis.”

Aside from loud complaints and awkward getting-to-know-you scenes, these blank screens might show us how much things have changed from the days when we supposedly ate as if we were posing for a Norman Rockwell painting. Nowadays in most households, food is faster, schedules are more hectic, and various media outlets are more intrusive.
Then again, we need to be careful what we wish for. A recent article, “The History of the Family Dinner in America,” points out that the Leave It to Beaver meal gathering developed over decades and mainly worked for Americans who actually had a table, a “dining room,” and a set time to eat. The expected values included the need to be “agreeable, pious, and unified.” This 50s instructional video provides a disturbing look at how far some stressed the rigidity of the “ideal family setting.” The 60s changed much of that scene, but that’s another story.
Nearing 90 years of age, my parents still live on the home farm, and I’m pleased to say several generations still gather around their kitchen table at regular intervals. We talk, laugh, joke, and only use smartphones to settle important disputes. “Ha, I was right. Ray Bolger–not Jack Haley–played the scarecrow on The Wizard of Oz. Ah, if you only had a brain!”
Then again we were never the Cleaver family—even in the late 50s. Dad did not wear a suit and tie to the meal. Most farmers just made sure the straps of their bib overalls were fastened. And if anyone at the table was “wired,” it was Dad. His transistor radio gave him the grain market reports and the essential weather forecasts. “Quiet, they’re stating the pork belly prices.”
Mom was just as nice as June Cleaver, but I’m sure she was a better cook. That could be because The Beaver’s mom apparently spent the day fixing her hair and ironing the dress she would wear to the meal. Mom spent most of her time keeping us three boys in line. We were raised on the Lone Ranger and Looney Tunes, so we seldom hit the “pious” or “agreeable” standards. But we were unified in our quest to have fun, so the family meal might include kicking under the table, Three Stooges quips, and food flicking at a brother when the folks weren’t looking. A normal meal had a spilled glass of milk and somebody’s sleeve in the gravy.
Mom and Dad have turned the family table into a social magnet—a place for kids of all ages to “gather around the feeding trough” and have a good time. But during that era when we boys were doing Spanky and Our Gang impersonations, Mom probably wished smartphones would have been around to keep us calm. That hidden switch in the pepper grinder would have stayed off, and she could power herself down to enjoy the family meal. 
by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom pic from lessonbucket.jpg)

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.