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Where are we having dinner tonight?

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It used to be we asked, “What’s for dinner?” Now the question has become “Where are we having dinner?”

I have fond memories of Sunday supper, after church, at my best friend’s house. The general scenario was that I would have breakfast with my family before walking to church. Then I would walk home with my friend Dan and his family, where I would have Sunday supper, Italian style.

And it didn’t end with the six siblings of wide-ranging ages. Aunts, uncles and cousins arrived at the house like weekly clockwork—never knocking of course—that was completely unnecessary.

For me, the warmth of my friend’s family and hospitality was matched only by the entertainment I was witness to as most meals incorporated some level of heated, emotional debate. They were Italian after all.

But that was the point: it was family time. And while family time wasn’t always filled with stories of school science projects, baseball practice or fishing, it was still a time of conversation and unity—something that we are sorely lacking in the modern-day American home, generally speaking.

And while spending an extended period of time in a rural French community outside Bordeaux while standing in as my best friend’s best man, I was delighted to see that some families gather on a regular basis, with very few exceptions.

Both lunch and dinner were respected as a time when we collectively gathered and prepared the day’s meal. We sat at a table, together, and conversed. Not speaking French did admittedly limit my contribution to the conversations, nevertheless it was a generational social interaction at its root. No one ever jumped up from their place the second they set their fork down.

Today, we find ourselves with an increasing portion of the population who would rather get their clothes off the computer, entertainment at their fingertips, and their meals from a box—one with a whole lot of packaging I might add. 

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and many others like them. I thought we were supposed to be reducing our use of packaging. I’ve noticed on more than one occasion that the very same individual who might attempt to shame me for a Styrofoam container or a plastic straw is also a regular customer of one of the aforementioned services. Talk about excessive packaging.

So the question is: “Are we getting lazier, looking for more immediate results and satisfaction, or just too darn busy?” I would contend it’s a combo meal, pun intended.

This country saw unbridled prosperity post-World War II. We moved to the suburbs, bought cars, lawnmowers and Airstreams. We tried to convey an image to the world that we were successful, tranquil, hardworking and free. And along with that came mealtime as something greater than simply eating in the kitchen before rushing to our next task—particularly dinner—it was where we gathered.

But the dynamic of the American household was different then. Typically only one parent worked, which allowed significantly more time in front of the stove and at the market. Today, the average American spends a little more than half the time we did preparing and eating meals as we did in 1965. And there’s probably nothing wrong with that, it just depends on what else we are filling that time with.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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