The American way of life is built around speed and efficiency. Every new advance in technology is built around being just a little faster and a little more connected. A mother can drop her kids off at school, pay her bills online, contribute to her retirement account, schedule a meeting at work, respond to e-mails through her Blackberry, call in a coffee order at Starbucks, return her Netflix movies, and squeeze in a yoga workout all before she actually gets to work. Where in this schedule is there time for a well-rounded meal (excepting Starbucks of course)? This perpetual need for speed has invaded all aspects of our lives and has created an environment that is not conducive to traditional family meals.
Perhaps the first impetus for this change was the invention of the television. As televisions became more and more common in America’s households, TV dinners came about. Families were not able to watch their favorite game show while eating dinner and not talking to each other. As cities grew larger and agriculture gave way to more advanced industrialism and technology, cars and long commutes became the every day way of life. Somewhere in all this development the home-cooked meal lost its way.
Let’s return to the woman mentioned in the first paragraph. Due to her hectic morning schedule, she never gets breakfast, which most nutritionists agree is the most important meal of the day. Lunch probably comes from a vending machine and dinner is something she picks up on the way home. As a working mother her kids will either need to go to daycare after school or be at home by themselves. Depending on her husband’s schedule they may work out an arrangement where he picks up the kids and she picks up dinner. This situation of course is applicable only to married women and does not account for the thousands of single mothers who simultaneously work and care for their children.
Simply looking at an example like this one makes it easy to see why the traditional meal has given way to fast food. Who has time or energy to cook? Do they even know how? Once upon a time home economics classes taught, at minimum, the basics of cooking. However, those classes eventually became to be viewed as unnecessary and perhaps even sexist because the majority of students enrolled were female. While not a guarantee, perhaps the ability to cook would result in more home cooked meals.
America’s need for speed has changed not only what we eat and how we eat it, but also the way in which we view food. Instead of being something to be enjoyed and savored, it has become a means to an end. It is the means to temporarily removing hunger before we move on to the next task on our to-do list. Quality has become less important than it used to be. Perhaps this is why McDonald’s satisfies now, when many years ago a mother would have viewed it as a diversion for her children or a cheap substitution instead of a real meal. Of course our taste buds have not become completely extinct which is perhaps another reason why McDonald’s is so appealing: it’s tasty.
All in all, because of our fast-paced society we have lost not only the time to cook a good meal, but also the ability to really appreciate a quality meal. While we may have a better understanding of nutrition, (what child hasn’t seen the food pyramid in their school cafeteria) we rarely make use of that knowledge. Where are we headed? Will America be the nation that is remembered for its need for speed and its dependence on fast food or is their hope that maybe we can change the way we live and eat. The recent popularity of cooking shows and personalities like Emeril and Rachel Ray suggest that we may be making a slow turn from fast food to a more healthful way of cooking and eating. While we may never return to the glory days of the fifties when every meal was lovingly prepared by the quintessential house wife (thank god!), perhaps we can reshape our current culture to be more health conscious, not only in terms of what we eat but also in terms of how we live our day to day lives.