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Soup's On (The Coffee Table)
February 1, 2012 10:29 AM   Subscribe

A study in Public Health Nutrition which compiles data relating to Americans' food-related time use over the past 30 years reveals some interesting trends: Eating as a primary activity declined in the past 30 years. On the other hand, eating as a secondary activity rose dramatically in the past 30 years. We now do almost 50 percent of our eating while concentrating on something else.
From the introduction to photographer Miho Aikawa's project Dinner In NY, a series of portraits of New Yorkers eating dinner -- and often doing something else besides.
posted by EmpressCallipygos (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the interest of full disclosure -- most of the time I also am sitting at the coffee table in front of the TV too.

Don't tell my mother.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2012


huh eating dinner alone in my apartment never feels as depressing as it apparently looks
posted by nathancaswell at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is cool and all but I'm frustrated the pics don't have at least a little context. Like: What time is it? or for pictures not obviously taken at home: Where are they and is this typical?
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2012


Whoops, sorry 2Bucks: if you click on the "caption" header at the top of any of the pictures, it'll turn on captions with all of that information (for all subsequent pictures too).

Was going to mention that, forgot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like eating with other people, but am I really not supposed to do anything else when I'm eating by myself at home? It's boring, and I scarf down my food when that happens because I want to do something else.

Maybe it would only suit the extroverts if I ate every one of my meals with other people.
posted by grouse at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't think it looked depressing. I am a little confused about what it means for eating to be a "primary activity" though. Do conversations count, for instance?

I remember sitting at a dinner table for nightly meals from 30 years ago and it was awful. I couldn't wait to escape. Grimly staring down a bowl of overcooked zucchini for an hour after being forced to eat a full slab of meatloaf. Ugh.

Meanwhile tonight is Taco Night with the older kids, during which we watch a vintage TV program for educational purposes (in this case, Cosby). We also marvel at how yummy tacos are. I'm having a hard time imagining this is less healthy behavior, in any sense, than my experience as a child.
posted by DU at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I got to the male couple on the couch with the wine and thought "I bet if I googled their names I'd find a very healthy web presence" and lo, I was correct.
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think if the purpose of your time is to eat, it's primary. i.e. you can watch the news or a TV show while you eat dinner.

But if your primary purpose is not to eat, i.e. snacking on chips while you watch Star Trek, eating is secondary. You do not have to eat, you just are. And this is what has increased.

I usually read, listen or watch something while I eat dinner or lunch, but the purpose is to eat dinner or lunch.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:44 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember when I first got my own kitchen table that I could actually sit at and eat. I'd been sitting on my couch and eating before that. It was like I grew an extra limb.
posted by marxchivist at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2012


Honestly, what got me about this wasn't so much "people watching TV/reading/etc. while they're eating," it was "people sitting on beds/at coffee tables/at desks rather than at TABLES while eating."

I am finding that I sometimes have to remind myself now and then to sit over at the dinner table for dinner rather than just bringing things over to the coffee table in front of the TV. I still listen to the radio while I eat, or read, or sometimes even swing the TV around so I can see it, but for some reason the mere fact that i'm sitting at the dinner table feels more....civilized or humanizing or something. Eating is now an event that I'm treating myself to rather than just "ugh, I need to eat something and I don't care".

And I'm someone who likes cooking and eating. I rarely order out when I'm just cooking for one, I'll go all-in and make myself awesome bowls of gumbo or polenta or from-scratch ramen. But then I'll just go sit at the coffee table like it's nothing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


These days I'm finding myself turning off the television when I sit down to dinner. Mostly because it's a half hour in my busy day where I'm NOT in front of some kind of screen or monitor. A quiet moment where I'm not being yelled at by the internet. No television, no phone, just food, peace, & quiet.
posted by Fizz at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2012


I always eat at the coffee table or my computer desk and it's always something I love and usually have been looking forward to all day. Sitting at a dining room table says to me one of two things:

1) I just did a lot of cleaning to make enough space on the dining room table to eat off of
2) I'm going to be trapped here with these people (and children) for *hours*

The second of these is less now that all the relatives I eat with are pleasant company, but that wasn't always the case.
posted by DU at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2012


I have never understood why people like to eat as a social activity. I actively dislike eating in the presence of others, be they friend or stranger. I'd much rather eat alone with a book. I don't think I've ever intentionally "primarily ate" in my adult life.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first thing that struck me about the photos is that it's generally the people eating alone who are "doing something else" while eating, and frankly I don't really see a problem with, say, reading/websurfing/watching TV while eating - as opposed to what, staring off into space? Interesting enough pics, but to me the premise seems like a bit of a stretch.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2012


If trying to fend off the cat during dinner counts as a "primary activity" then I do 100% of my eating while concentrating on something else.
posted by lydhre at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


My dining room chairs are significantly less comfortable than my couch.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fucking dining room, what a wasted room. I think I'll put in a pool table and and some taps instead.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:19 AM on February 1, 2012


Growing up, we always always always ate dinner together, as a family, around the big dinner table.

I lost the habit in college. Dinner was while watching a movie on the laptop, or at the table alone with a book. Once in a while, when our schedules aligned and the roommates were all together, we'd do something, but it was the exception rather than the rule. Ten years with a rotating cast of roommates and living situations turned me into a dinner-grazer with no fixed time or structure to the meal.

Cooking a dinner-type meal for one is depressing. I come from a big family and I love to cook for people, and all my cooking instincts presume a half-dozen people. Cooking a proper meal for one just leaves me expecting company that isn't coming.

When I got married, though, the wife and I made a concerted effort to have dinner together at the table every night. Occasionally we'll have The Daily Show on hulu, but we really try to make it a time together, to unwind and be thankful. I find it really comforting.
posted by gauche at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


We didn't bother to set our place up with a dedicated dining table. We just have a lot of yoga cushions we can spread around the coffee table in the living room. Works fine and saves a lot of space.

I agree with others here - the framing of the post makes it seem like this is somehow a problem, but it just seems like plain old good sense. Eating is not, in itself, a particularly fascinating process, and I see no reason to waste any more of my life being bored than is strictly necessary. Of course when it is a social occasion, that's different, but then it's the social interaction that you are focusing on - the food is just an excuse to spend some time together.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:23 AM on February 1, 2012


We mostly gave up on shooing the cats off the dining room table because we almost never use it, and when we do, we have to clean it off first anyhow.

We eat together on the couch, in front of the coffee table, usually watching Jeopardy! and chatting. It works.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:25 AM on February 1, 2012


Metafilter: I grew an extra limb.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2012


Cooking a dinner-type meal for one is depressing. I come from a big family and I love to cook for people, and all my cooking instincts presume a half-dozen people. Cooking a proper meal for one just leaves me expecting company that isn't coming.

Huh. I'll grant it's a your-mileage-may-vary thing, but I honestly don't mind cooking for one -- if it's something really good, I get a sort of greedy, "heeheheeheeeheee, it's ALLLL MINE" glee. I can leave the onions off the pizza if I don't want them (and yes, I make my own pizza), I can use pork in the meatballs instead of just beef if I want to do it that way, I can put spinach in my ramen if I want without anyone going "eeeeewww", I can try inventing weird recipes just to see what happens (preserved lemon, butter, and rosemary on roast chicken? Sure, why not), and I can go back for a second or a THIRD helping of jambalaya if I want (and I ususally do because dude, JAMBALAYA).

This is not to discount your experience, mind. Sometimes I wish I had people around more often, and sometimes I get sick of leftovers. But other times I sort of embrace the "this is all for me, and I deserve it all spirit, and that definitely helps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re: dining alone:

"No man is alone when eating spaghetti." --Robert Morley
posted by kinnakeet at 11:35 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


because dude, JAMBALAYA

I keep trying to process this as some variation on IANYL, but I can't make it work.
posted by The Bellman at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2012


A lot of these are fake. I mean, come on - New Yorkers don't cook.

I keed. But seriously.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:55 AM on February 1, 2012


JAMBALAYA

Just A Moment But All Likable Acronyms Yammer Annoyingly
posted by General Tonic at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2012


Wow, the row of architects with beer and pizza. Yeah, that's pretty much it.
posted by meinvt at 12:19 PM on February 1, 2012


Eating is now an event that I'm treating myself to rather than just "ugh, I need to eat something and I don't care".

This may be indicative of an acute spiritual poverty, but that is almost always my reaction to the necessity of eating. Doing something while eating is my way of dealing with the frustration at being compelled to satisfy that need, because it's a pain in the ass to take care of for someone with ADHD. When I tell my friends this, they tell me that they're concerned about what they deem to be an unhealthy tendency towards asceticism, which is bullshit because I love beer. I've suspected for a while that this is all a result of my being whatever the opposite of a super-taster is, which is consistent with my pretty atrocious sense of smell and my preference for things like peaty scotch, intense stouts, spicy food, bitter coffee, and loads of salt.
posted by invitapriore at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I couldn't eat pizza while surfing the web, I wouldn't be able to stand either.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2012


Ah, I like the first guy who's having dinner with his laptop and his sleeping cat. No finer company!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2012


I got to the male couple on the couch with the wine and thought "I bet if I googled their names I'd find a very healthy web presence" and lo, I was correct

Doesn't that apartment look familiar? ApartmentTherapy feature, perhaps?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2012


In my ongoing effort to wholly transform myself into a 50s housewife I've been trying to push the family around-the-table dinner as the alternative to the around-the-television dinner and it is a fucking uphill battle. DU's recollections make me feel defensive about this effort though I guess I try to mitigate it with the rules of my house being nobody is ever forced to eat anything, and nobody has to stay at the table when they're done eating... as well I'd like to think the fare I'm providing is generally excellent. Meals with like a movie are an occasional treat. The habit of eating in front of the television was well ingrained in my wife and I long before we had a child.

For me the effort is about reducing the role of television in life generally, making eating more communal and about individual interaction rather than collective consumption of media and (for myself personally) about eating being a more mindful and less mindless action.
posted by nanojath at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2012


i like the photo with the chubby cat on its hind legs
posted by mlo at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2012


I got to the male couple on the couch with the wine and thought "I bet if I googled their names I'd find a very healthy web presence" and lo, I was correct.

Should you, or shouldn't you? On the one hand, it's great to satisfy curiosity and find out more about random people in photos. On the other hand, it often spoils things. You sit at a cafe and a couple of tables away, there are some intriguing people, by the look of it; makes the cafe atmosphere fun. But the key is: close, but not too close. Because so very, very often if you happen to overhear just what is being said, your spirit is immediately crushed, and with it, the atmosphere and illusion is gone. So, I've learned to enjoy the atmosphere, and not to let curiosity take over. I don't want to know more about these guys. I like the photo. Following the suggestion, I googled. I came across a music track by one of these guys. I was about to click on it. And then I stopped. I still like the photo.
posted by VikingSword at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this is somehow supposed to make me feel bad for eating chili straight from the pot I reheated it in while sitting on the floor playing beautiful katamari, then it is failing abjectly. Eating with other people drives me batty - either you resign yourselves to talking with your mouths full and spraying one another with crumbs, or you sit in a weird silence the entire time. Or, worst of all, someone distracts you with interesting conversation in a fiendish attempt to steal your precious fries.
posted by elizardbits at 3:24 PM on February 1, 2012


Also, people who eat in bed and are not ill or disabled are clearly dangerous criminals who should be stopped. I bet they wear street shoes in the house, too.
posted by elizardbits at 3:26 PM on February 1, 2012


i.... i dont have these problems when i eat with other people.

im really getting into the whole having folks over for dinner concept as a Thing. ms. bees and i try to eat together when we're in the house at the same time. there is something pleasant about setting aside some time to cram food into your snack hole and it seems to disincline one to thoughtlessly cram said food into said snack hole.
posted by beefetish at 4:17 PM on February 1, 2012


I can't believe how many of these show people eating on their bed. Is that just because apartments in NY are too small to have tables? When I eat, there's usually a whole ring of spilled food, crumbs, splashed sauce, dribbled drink all around my placemat. I'd hate to think what my bed would look like if I'd slobbered all my dinner about it..
posted by Metro Gnome at 5:06 PM on February 1, 2012


If this woman had photographed me tonight she would captured a compelling image of a young man sitting alone at a large oak dining table, eating a homemade Thai green curry from fine china with sterling silver, drinking a glass of 2005 Bordeaux, watching an episode of TV's Highlander on his phone.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:47 PM on February 1, 2012


"No man is alone when eating spaghetti." --Robert Morley

When I hear spaghetti I think of Murakami's story 'The Year of Spaghetti', which is about...a guy who lives alone, eats alone, is very alone and eats a lot of spaghetti.

It is also found in a compilation book called "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant".

The idea of eating alone certainly stirs up a lot of different feelings. It's lonely! That's my opinion. And Marukami is particularly excellent at evoking this sort of feeling. At one point in the story the protagonist is lying on the floor. As an activity. That's how I feel when I think about eating alone, even though I do it almost daily.

Disclaimer: I sit at a table.
posted by bquarters at 7:19 PM on February 1, 2012


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