Two distantly related news items this week have me thinking about food and how much it has changed in my lifetime.
The first item was about the Iowa Hunger Summit which was part of World Food Prize week. The World Food Prize honors innovations in increasing the world’s food supply. Lunch for some diners at the Iowa Hunger Summit consisted of a soupy corn concoction and a mound of vegetable-flecked rice, a feast for many of Earth’s residents but what amounts to a starvation diet for most amply fed Americans.
The second item was the news that McDonald’s posted the biggest dividend boost in its history in the third quarter of 2007, thanks to surging sales in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The Gospel of the Big Mac is apparently being gobbled up elsewhere as well with McDonald’s stock reaching an all-time high last month.
The business-side success of the fast food industry has been accompanied by a similar growth in the rate of obesity, particularly childhood obesity, a connection that’s been widely reported. What has been less widely reported, I believe, is the change in family dynamics that has accompanied these trends.
For blue collar families like mine, it was a relatively rare treat for our family to dine out in the pre-fast food years. The first McDonald’s in my home town appeared in my high school years, right next to my high school, in fact. It caught on real fast. Over the years, they’ve added dining areas, drive-throughs and expanded their constantly changing menus.
Other things have happened over the years to change our eating habits. For instance, the Des Moines area now has several Thai, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants. We have restaurants featuring food from El Salvador, Great Britain, Germany, Afghanistan and Greece as well. We had next to none of that when I was a kid.
Food available in grocery stores these days is a far cry from that available just a few, short decades ago. Eggplant was about as weird as it got back then. Mangos? Avocados? Cilantro? Are you kidding?
The biggest change, though, may be the fact that families get together for a casual meal together far less often than in the past. Dinner was a time for catching up, sharing your day, telling stories, making plans. It’s almost quaint to think of such a thing in these helter-skelter days, as foreign as an eggplant to a city kid in the 1950s.
How has mealtime changed for you in your lifetime? Is that for better or for worse?