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What do we talk about when we talk about … Food and Family?

Food brings us memories when it takes us to an imaginary place with its form, colours, texture, smell and obviously its taste. It reveals strong emotions in us. When we think about our favourite dish we can almost smell and even taste it. And our mind shifts to the time and the place where we had that dish.

In this short article I would like to explore, via a few examples of differences between cultures, the place of food in family live.

Sociologists and psychologists found many benefits to the habit of family meals. Eating together teaches children social skills such as speaking to adults, listening to other people while they talk, exchanging views and learning to accept other people’s points of view. It empowers self-confidence as the secured family environment, in most cases, allows the child to reveal his/ her feelings. Moreover, eating together allows an improvement of language skills and extends the topics a child is exposed to.

Every family has its own way of eating which varies from one culture to another. Different cultures have norms regarding what is allowed or not when eating, who is sitting where during the meal, what are the acceptable ways of preparing food, the time meals should be served and obviously what people eat.

Traditions of food and eating differ even within a society over time and are due to social changes. For example, the main meal in Israel is at lunch time. In the past, children ate with their mothers. When mothers started to work outside the domestic sphere, children started to heat their food and eat alone. In other cultures the main dish of the day was dinner, awaiting the father to come back from work and eat with his family. This tradition is kept today as it suits the social status of working mothers.

The quality of food has changed over time. In many families there are more and more industrial dishes to help the new organisation of the family. The tradition of “takeaway” has developed tremendously to facilitate joggling between home and work. Another change in family cooking is the place of the man in the kitchen. These days we see more and more men involved in preparing food. The traditional role of mothers as cook has changed and it also brought changes in the variety and in the tastes of the meals.

Family meals have a very prominent rule in teaching offspring social and cultural rules. In Nepal and China for example, the elderly person would eat first and only then would other members of the family start to eat. In other cultures you might see that children are fed before. The order of serving food reflects the place this group of people has in society and the respect the culture give them.

Food traditions are kept in the family and it promotes a construction of identity and identification. Dishes tell us the story of where we came from and who we are.

Dr. Efrat Tzadik

Personal development coach

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