People prefer to eat elsewhere, apparently.
Eating at a dinner table is rapidly becoming obsolete for many Americans. A recent study of 1,000 individuals found that, while nearly three-quarters (72 percent) were raised in households that sat down to eat together at a table, less than half (48 percent) do so now. The table has been replaced by the couch, where 30 percent of respondents eat their meals, and the bedroom, with 17 percent of users.
As Joe Pinsker wrote for the Atlantic, "To put it another way, the number of respondents who most often eat at a kitchen table nowadays is roughly the same as the number who eat either on the couch or in their bedroom."Pinsker asked a few food culture experts about their thoughts on these findings (which came from a survey conducted by a smart oven company, and thus should be viewed with a certain degree of caution); but they replied that the findings align with their own research. They named a number of factors driving the table's growing obsolescence.
Families tend to eat separately these days, often citing busy schedules, although it's not uncommon for other family members to be somewhere else in the house when someone is eating. (That strikes me as incredibly sad and lonely!)
There are also more people than ever living alone. Pinsker said, "In big American cities, it’s common for almost half of households to have just one resident... Perhaps [this means] means eating dinner on the couch — or, more practically, not owning a kitchen table in the first place."
Women cook on average twice as much as men, often despite working full-time jobs outside the home. They're understandably exhausted, which means more takeout meals and less of an urge to set a formal table for food that's already packed to be eaten anywhere. And when you live with an open-concept kitchen and dining space, there's even more incentive to sit at an island or a bar to chow down.
A final yet not insignificant driver of change is the rise in screens, whether it's TV, a laptop or tablet. Sitting on the couch or lounging in bed are both conducive to catching up on Netflix while eating dinner. Apparently, "24 percent of children live in homes where the TV is on or a device is out during dinnertime" (via the Atlantic).
As a vocal supporter of daily family meals shared around a table, I find all of these reasons to be quite depressing. We have so much to gain by eating together – better nutrition, slower rate and volume of consumption, emotional bonding, space for conversation about the day and the chance to discuss challenges and celebrate successes, a sense of belonging – and so much to lose by letting it fall by the wayside.
We can fight against this trend by striving to reintroduce family dinners whenever possible. Even if it's just once or twice a week, that's an excellent place to start. Consider setting yourself a goal for a month or the summer, and make the table a gathering space for just a half-hour each day. I bet it will become something you all look forward to.