Bowling along like this is not a good idea
PUBLISHED: 07:15 24 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:42 24 May 2018
So ‘bowl food’ is now officially a ‘thing’. Andy Newman is not convinced.
As this is meant to be a column focusing on food and drink, it is one place where you might expect to escape the ubiquitous comment about last weekend’s big royal event.
But among the many things we learned during the wedding celebrations, two were related (more or less) to food: first that Curry is not just an Indian dish but also a cool dude of a bishop whose preaching is every bit as hot as a vindaloo; the second is that ‘bowl food’ is definitely now a thing.
Predictably, the fact that Harry and Meghan’s wedding breakfast was not a tradition sit-down affair had the Daily Mail in uproar. Many commentators made jokes (I use the word wrongly) about how delighted the dry cleaning industry would be about this new trend. And one ‘etiquette expert’ on Radio 2 said, ‘The bowl food thing that they have announced today isn’t brilliant’, having previously written that ‘only dogs eat from bowls’.
Although it has taken a tradition-ignoring royal wedding to bring the term into widespread public use, bowl food has in fact been with us for some years now. Although it has become a bit more of a literal term – ie food served in bowls rather than plates - it started out as much about the contents as the crockery they were served in, with grains, pulses and chia seeds to the fore.
I suspect the choice of bowl food at Saturday’s bash was for two main reasons, neither of them related to the food itself. The first was that serving food in this way allows guests to circulate and be more sociable, especially when the alternative is the rigid etiquette of a sit-down wedding breakfast.
But I imagine the choice was also to send a message that this is a couple who are determined to do things their own way, and few would argue that the very much rooted-in-the-past royal edifice will not benefit from an injection of fresh thinking.
But – and it’s a big but – I very much hope that this does not drive the relentless trend towards abandoning the dinner table altogether, because this is something which is immensely damaging to both our digestion and our social fabric.
Sitting down to eat together is – or should be – one of the fundamental glues which bind us together, as families, couples, groups of friends. The fact that many new homes today are built without a dining room shows how far the trend to eating on-the-fly has gone.
I have no problem with our food being served in bowls rather than on plates, within reason. But if Harry and Meghan’s dispensing with the sit-down meal helps drive people away from the dining table, they will have done considerable harm.
Repeated studies have shown that eating round the table is better for us, nutritionally and socially. According to the University of Leeds, children who eat a family meal round a table consume an average of one and a half more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. A joint study between Cornell University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands showed that families who eat at the table have a lower BMI on average.
Another study, this time by the University of Minnesota found that adolescent girls enjoyed more frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, were less likely to suffer from eating disorders. It has even been found (by Harvard University, no less) that family dinners may help improve the vocabulary of young children.
Just as importantly, meals eaten around the table are taken more slowly, hopefully without the pernicious presence of technology (if you haven’t banned smartphones and tablets from your table, do so now), with the result that children and adults alike find themselves connecting with others, something which is sadly lacking in our hurried, always-on world.
So by all means dispense with the formal sit-down wedding breakfast and let your guests mingle. But at home, whether you serve your meals on plates, in bowls, or on any other crockery, take the time to sit down and enjoy it, without other distractions. You might very well be bowled over with the result.
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