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Family Mealtime Epidemic: The Pursuit of Easy, Easier and Easiest!

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SandwichDoes the Concept of “Easy” Have to Mean Effortless?

And, Does Requiring Effort Have to Imply the Absence of Ease?

It’s All a Matter of Personal Perception.


Ever think about how, depending on your frame of mind, the same words can conjure very different internal reactions?


Take the words “hot and sticky,” for example. In the middle of summer, on a very humid day when the air has a palpable denseness, the words hot and sticky could perfectly convey a feeling that’s negative. Conversely, on a crisp day in autumn, when the same words are used to describe a bakery filled with the sight and scent of just baked tender buns, dripping with a load of sultry nut-studded caramel, the exact same person might salivate with anticipation. And, when the very same person goes to the gym, determined to move their body parts until drenched in sweat, suddenly the sensation of being hot and sticky becomes a highly prized benchmark that delivers a hefty dose of personal accomplishment.


Summer-time and the living is easy. Or is it?


Not to dedicated farmers. Not to homeowners that religiously mow their lawns and who eagerly tend to their gardens. Not to those that wait all year to be able to play a warm weather sport. Not to those whose ambition to fulfill their dreams continues, whether personal or professional, at full speed, regardless of the time of year. These people find a sense of ease within the act of devoting effort toward something deemed important. Actually all of us do, depending on “what” we value. Attaching value is what predisposes us to be more open to the feeling of enjoyment as we become more adept at something that requires the exertion of effort.


Now, let’s take the word “effort.”


To a person that’s determined to become more proficient at a favorite sport, or at an art, the concept of effort is embraced and often religiously practiced. And, I’m not just referring to those who aspire to become professionals. I’m talking about hard-working busy men and women, who claim to have no time to breathe but who (some how) make it a priority to find the time to practice something deemed consequential to their goals, whether immediate or distant, usually to enhance their life in some perceived way, including their opinion of themselves. So, when committed to become skillful, a person rarely finds it “too hard” to put forth the effort required to grow, even though in some instances, there could be many years of diligence needed in order to own the right to claim and exhibit proficiency with some measure of ease. Is it easy? No. (Just ask anyone who plays golf!)


So, contrary to what many believe, the words “ease and effort” are not antonyms. They are both byproducts that occur when someone moves proactively toward a valued desire.


I often find myself wondering when exactly did the word “effort” evoke such a bad taste in the mouths of so many people when it comes to cooking for themselves and/or for their dependants. How can the act of cooking and shared family meals, something that provides a family with a daily way to stay anchored to one another, be considered less consequential than becoming more adept at business, or at sports, or at anything? What can be considered better than building and maintaining a great family? How can the effort required to shop for ingredients a few times a week, or to chop some vegetables and to either sear, roast or simmer some meat, poultry and/or fish be considered unworthy of our mental and physical focus, especially when doing this promises to strengthen the backbone of our personal kingdoms in ways that filter down into the deepest, most precious dimensions of human desire; to live, to feel loved and to be of real significance to another?


Oh, there’s certainly no shortage of grown-up food-show groupies, hooked on the voyeuristic fad of fawning over a few over-exposed restaurant chefs or those that can’t wait to gawk at the slew of chicken-fighting “wanna-be” star-chefs as they step into a televised ring waiting for their weekly dose of humiliation. And, let’s not forget about all those who love to gaze into the ever-deepening cleavage of apron-less babes who wave their spatulas, while grinning wildly, strutting their adeptness at using store-bought cake mix. There’s also no dearth of hungry souls who hoard glossy cookbooks, only to experience them as a secretively yearning person would pornography; privately devouring the sensuous photos while scanning the text for titillating descriptions of how a particular ingredient or finished dish made a particular cookbook author and their favorite people audibly squeal with pleasure. And yet in the end, all too often the voyeur, without ever wielding a knife, slumps into their habitual resolve to settle for a vicarious mental projection before rolling over and going to sleep (AKA: they “do” take out).


So, don’t be fooled by all the current movie-star hype featuring the sexiness of cooking in the media, along with all the bookstores across America with entire wings laden with cookbooks, since all of this rarely adds up to actual cooking. Instead, these things just provide an easy way for a busy person to get a passive voyeuristic thrill, while choosing to allocate their time and muscle somewhere else.


The pursuit of “easy, easier and easiest,” when it comes to the foods we serve ourselves and our families has reached epidemic proportions. The overabundance of food-shops that sell primarily pre-prepared foods, whose goal is to seductively lure hungry people in off the streets with signs like “DON’T COOK TONIGHT!” and then rope them into paying for the privilege of toting home their sustenance in foil trays and plastic tubs, more than insinuates that dedicating the time and expending the effort to learn how to cook with ease for themselves and for those they love has little, if any, real significance to the bigger picture of life. As a result, thoughtful home-cooking in America is in the process of becoming considered completely expendable and in exchange for what?


To those of us who know better, it’s because we’ve personally experienced the family table as something much more than a mere romantic notion. It is, instead, a perfect place for parents to help children to overcome a most important dichotomy of life. Although from birth the human tendency is to be selfish, it’s also our greatest wish to feel a deep sense of belonging. And, because selfishness innately undermines the ability for people to truly thrive while coexisting, our earliest and most fundamental lessons in life can (and should) be learned and mastered at home, lest they be faced in bigger, more caustic arenas.


Parents who work long hours, to either meet or surpass their parents or peers ability to buy their children nice things, (including a bombardment of “extra-curricular” activities) often do this at the expense of providing a balanced, loving and consistent dinnertime. Yet, this is where children can learn to wait patiently while another speaks, to show appreciation for the feelings and efforts of others when presented with food that’s been prepared just for them, to feel a sense of camaraderie as an effective part of an ensemble when cooking, serving and cleaning, and also to feel the calming sense of trust that only consistency can provide. These are just some of the things that the regular practice of shared, home-cooked meals can, when provided in the right spirit, give to a child. As a result of the current mass-mentality, American children are, more than ever before in our history, routinely diagnosed and medicated for all kinds of social disorders that could often be averted if basic coexistence skills were taught and reinforced at home. This is more than merely “a shame.” It’s shameful.


My daughter Jessie recently came home from college and immediately after arriving, came directly to our kitchen, where I was busy cooking her “welcome home” dinner. Before even seeing her face I heard the words, “Mom, I’ve been dreaming about your food and our time together at the table.” My heart became filled with this oddly calm sense of excitement, not because it’s always been easy for me to juggle an adult agenda that’s full and dimensional but because it’s always been so deliciously challenging!


The point: Authentic ease is rarely achieved by embracing what’s “easy.” Instead, it comes from being genuinely muscular. And, like with any favorite sport, or art, or when building a great business, challenges are the gifts that continually supply us with the opportunity and incentive to regroup, prioritize, push through and ultimately achieve greatness. Raising a healthy, loving and productive family is certainly no exception. Parents in America might want to rethink how they allocate their sweat.


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Family Mealtime Epidemic: The Pursuit Of Easy, Easier And Easiest!