Chapter 2

Family meals—a thing of the past?

Anne Murcott

Meal-time as family reunion time was taken for granted a generation ago…there is arising a conscious effort to ‘save meal-times, at least, for the family.’ As one mother expressed it ….‘Even if we have only a little time at home together, we want to make the most of that little. In our family we always try to have Sunday breakfast and dinner together at least.’…‘I ate only seven meals at home all last week and three of those were on Sunday’ said one father.

Over the past 40 years there has been a food revolution in Britain. New foods and new methods of growing, processing, distributing and cooking food have arrived. Even eating has been transformed. No longer does everyone have so-called family meals all seated round a table. We have snacks between meals, buy low nutrient foods and eat on the hoof—appropriately known by the food marketers as ‘grazing’.

[I]t is worrying that…breaking bread together is no longer the focal point of family life; a snatched breakfast—if any—being followed by lunch at school or work, with the evening meal a matter of individually finding what is available and gobbling it up in front of the telly…or perhaps hunger is assuaged at a fish and chip shop or the ubiquitous McDonalds.

There are probably few surprises in this trio of quotations (their sources are provided later in the chapter). Talk of the changes reputedly under way, the attempts made to resist them, the apprehension at the supposed speed of change and/or its inexorability are, no doubt, quite familiar. Journalists writing on the state of society today, family life or childhood in crisis, use it to signal a

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