Family Meals As Relationship Maintenance

"The Potato Eaters" by Vincent Van Gogh, courtesy of Wikimedia

I wrote in an earlier post, Love At The Dinner Table, about how food underlies many of our formative emotional experiences, ranging from family interactions to occasions with lovers. This was mostly based on my intuition and my life experiences as a child of foodies.

Now, research from Indiana University backs up this claim, as studies have demonstrated that “Family meal time has been shown to help kids do better in school, makes them less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and results in less depression and lower levels of obesity.” The site linked above also gives tips for increasing face-to-face time at family meal events, ranging from scheduling ideas (if dinner doesn’t work, try brunch on the weekends) to interaction tips (such as asking for the highpoint of someone’s day and focusing on the positive rather than the negative).

However, I have to disagree with the writer’s assessment that nowadays “the family meal is practically folklore” since folklore doesn’t automatically mean falsehood or old relic. As a folklorist, I can tell you that folklore instead means the expressive culture or traditions of a given group… and further, I can urge you to incorporate family meals into your family’s folklore! It seems like using mealtimes as emotional bonding, relationship maintenance, and regular check-ins would also benefit non-nuclear family units such as childless couples, non-monogamous clusters, close-knits groups of friends, and so on. So try to schedule some time to enjoy a meal with your loved ones today!

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.

  • Michmobile2000

    Yes, and let us not underestimate the value of Happy Hours and community pot lucks – they reaaly amp up the connectivity.  BTW, Potato Eaters does not provide much of a sales pitch for your viewpoint….kind of a depressing bunch, no?

  • Jeana Jorgensen

    I’m totally on board with potluck and community meals, since “family” doesn’t just have to mean one’s biological or nuclear family.

    I chose the Potato Eaters with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek, and also because of the time when my parents, sister, and I went to the Netherlands, saw the painting, and then got stuck on the train for hours on the way back to see our friends in Belgium. By the time we finally got to their place, we were acting just like the people in the painting! So, I guess it has positive personal associations for me because I associate it with a funny story.