By Hai Anh
In today’s Vietnamese society, family meals are becoming scarcer in big cities
As modern lifestyles have staggered family members’ timetables, sharing meals among them has become rare. Family members in Vietnam tend to have meals alone or buy ready-made foods or simply dine out. Surveys in Europe and North America have all confirmed the correlation between a fall in the number of family meals and calorie-rich, chemical additive diets. This has given rise to obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. Moreover, the less family members share meals, the higher the possibility of digestive disorders, binge drinking, smoking or drug addiction. The polls have also shown that children who grow up often sharing meals with their families are more likely to develop good eating habits and achieve better nutrition.
A family meal actually pertains not only what to eat, but also how to eat. Having meals at a fixed time, eating no snacks between two main meals, washing hands before eating, sitting up straight, eating slowly, sharing foods with others, tasting every dish, leaving no leftovers, and cleaning up the table are the first lessions children in a family have to learn. Aside from educating children about nutrition, taste and etiquette, family meals also help shape their personalities. It is in family meals that kids learn to listen to others’ stories, and to express their views as well as their feeling.
A survey has shown that children who have at least five meals with their families a week are more likely to get good grades and expose a low susceptibility to depression and addiction. The frequency of family meals exerts strong impact on children’s capabilities to follow their ambitions and take part in social work. Eating with their families regularly or not also influences children’s stress and emotional self-control.
Having meals, after all, both relates to the relationship between people and food, and implies a spiritual significance. It is absurd to compare having a meal to “pouring petrol into the body” as commonly accepted in the U.S. That very notion of regarding food as fuel has created the American “eat whatever, whenever, wherever” eating style. Not to mention the fact that the Americans have acquired the habit of eating in privacy, eating quickly and eating while at work.
In contrast with the American model is the French style with three features: eating at fixed periods (morning, noon and afternoon), eating a variety of dishes and always changing, eating with other people (families or friends). For the majority of the French people, eating is not “wasting time” but “taking the time” for families and social networks. A social survey conducted in France has shown that three out of four respondents welcome family meals not only because they enjoy good foods but also because they can share their thoughts, news and feelings with their loved ones.
In all cultures, family traditions are created during family meals. Ethnographers say the habit of having meals together has formed kinship and consanguinity. That means, even if people who are not a kinsman or a kinswoman will be considered family members if they frequently have meals together. This is relatively common in Asia. In today’s Vietnam, a number of families are still trying to preserve the family meal tradition, which is by nature preserving happiness. What really counts is how each member has to find ways to arrange his or her life in order to enjoy these precious and rare moments.