Dinner makes a difference: Laurie David at TEDxManhattan

Translator: Jenny Lam-Chowdhury
Reviewer: Denise RQ Many of you may know me
as a global warming activist, so you actually might be surprised that I’m here to talk about
the benefits of family dinner. It does seem like
an odd transition, I agree, but if you look closely there is a connection
between planetary warming and the cooling trend in family closeness. The glaciers are not
the only things being eroded. Our overwhelming schedules
and our current lifestyle are chipping away at family life, and because we aren’t paying attention, something critically important
is slipping away. According to a recent
Kaiser Family Foundation study, kids are spending, on average, 7.5 hours a day on some form
of electronic device, and that doesn’t include
the time they are texting. So we all may live under one roof, but we are leading separate lives, in separate rooms, on separate computers, watching separate televisions, and eating separate meals. When sleeping is the only activity
we’re all doing at the same time, I mean, the hope
for connected family time may seriously be headed toward extinction. I’m the mother
of two teenage daughters, and I say that right off the bat because it’s an immediate sympathy builder
for anyone (Laughter) — See? It worked, right? — who’s gone through it. And like any parent, not a day goes by where I haven’t made a million mistakes or second-guessed myself. I’m definitely not standing up here
as a parenting expert, but I did have
a gigantic parenting epiphany recently sitting at my kitchen table. It was an ordinary school night, desserts has long since ended and the last remaining crumbs of the chocolate chip cookies
have been eaten, when I realized that both my teenage daughters
were still sitting there and they were talking to me. Now, this wasn’t an isolated incident, in fact, this is pretty much
what we’ve been doing five nights a week, for over a decade. But the enormity
and the power of it hit me. That the ritual of family dinner
was truly transforming and that in addition to producing kids
who ate a whole range of good food — which is an accomplishment in itself — the family dinner also provided us
a safe, predictable, cozy time everyday for us to purposely be a family. Even when we are mad at each other, even when everyone was stressed
over homework and tasks, we showed up at the table. Family dinner had actually ritualized
access to each other. And as a result, dinner has turned out
to be the healthiest habit, and the most important activity
my family does. And when things got really tough, the ritual of the dinner table
worked magic. So, in my case, divorce changed
the shape of my family but dinner got us through it, and even, eventually,
— catch this one — coaxed my ex back
to the table for weekly meals. I’m not kidding. So having that ritual
to fall back on spoke volumes, that even though we were in a transition, we were still a family,
and dinner will be served. That’s what I’ve learned
from my own personal experience, but the scientific research on this topic
is even more compelling. Dozens of universities have studied this, including Columbia, Emory, and Harvard, and they’ve all reached
the same conclusions that basically, everything
a parent worries about can be improved by the simple act
of sitting down and sharing a meal. Just name your parental anxieties: drugs, alcohol, smoking, teen pregnancy,
eating disorders, depression. According to the research, regular family meals
lower all those risks. That might be enough to get parents
to start ringing the dinner bell, but the benefits don’t stop there. Are you concerned about
your child self-esteem, resiliency, academic achievements? Do you know that a 20-year survey
of merit scholars had one thing in common
without exception? They all came from families
who ate together three or more nights a week. Every single one. And if someone had told me, back then when I started
my Tacos Tuesday ritual, that I was molding a future
merit scholar, I would have laughed, but it is true, children who have
regular meals with their parents do better in every aspect of life. So why? Well, the reason is the dinner table
provides the most effective place to share values, pass on family history,
– very important – debate opinions,
build vocabulary, learn manners, and so much more, one meal at the time, meal after meal after meal after meal. So why, as a society, are we letting this incredible tool
for raising children slips through the cracks? Why are we short-changing
our families and ourselves? Why are we eating so many meals
on the run, or in the car, or standing next to the counter,
or in front of the television? An average meal today
lasts less than 20 minutes. I mean, you talk about
low priority, right? Dinner is like a pit stop
to pack in the protein, like filing up our gas tanks. We’re so overscheduled,
we’re working so hard, rushing, that we forget
what all the hard work is actually for. I mean, honestly, what are we rushing to if we aren’t rushing to sit down
with the people that we love? In some ways, progress has set us back. And as we race forward
and leave family dinner behind, we’ve had an explosion
of health problems that were unheard of
a few generations ago. Coincidence? No. We’re in the midst
of diet-related diseases so severe that they are now
America’s number one killer. Obesity is growing faster than any other public health condition
in the country’s history. And hand in hand with obesity
of course comes diabetes, and the stats on this are frightening. The CDC recently reported
that by mid-century the number of people dealing with diabetes could potentially be one in three. So, how the heck did we get here
and how do we get out? Let’s start with the fact that today more than half of our meals
are purchased outside of the home. When you don’t cook it yourself,
you don’t know what’s in it. What you can count on though, is that’s probably higher
in salt, fat, and sugar. Fast food today makes up
a third of everything we’re eating. Ten percent of our kids’ calories
is coming from soda. And of course we are eating
way too much meat. I mean, this is a staple that we used
to enjoy a few times a week; many people are now eating it
three times a day. And guess what, it’s not
our grandparents’ chicken either. The meat we’re eating is full
of antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals. And of course our love of convenience
is also a really big part of this problem. The microwave is great for reheating, but let’s face it, it has spun a trillion dollar food culture of eat fast, eat processed,
and eat alone. Now, throw on mindlessly
gobbling down that food, in front of the television, and you have a perfect recipe
for a health crisis. Even the issue of civility, which we’re all talking so much about
— or our lack of it — has its roots across the dinner plate because it’s there that we all learned our first lesson
in civilized behavior, right? How to take turns,
and how to listen, and to share. To solve this problem we need to rewind and it doesn’t require any government subsidies — yay! —
or fancy appliances. All we need is a reminder
of how it once was and should be again. Once upon a time all food was organic. I mean, be bought it locally,
we cooked it from scratch, we even grew some of it ourselves. We waited till June for strawberries, and corn knee-high by the 4th of July. Back then, our food was better quality, we spent more time together enjoying it, we had fewer health problems. Back then, family dinner
was a non-negotiable, if you didn’t want to show up for dinner,
you’d better have a doctor’s note. (Laughter) Family dinner was at the core
of America’s value system, and it really needs to be
at the core of the new food revolution we are at the start of, right now. Finally, a problem with a solution that is affordable, highly effective, available to us every day, and emotionally fulfilling to boot. So the bottom line is,
if we want to lead healthier lives, if we want stronger family bonds, if we want to combat obesity and diabetes, and live in a more civil country, and — I’ll even throw in —
lowering our carbon footprint, we need to sit down
and eat with each other more often. And for me, looking back,
now that my kids are almost grown, — and I really see how precious,
little time you have with teenagers — I take some comfort in knowing
that for most days, for at least an hour, we all stop what we were doing and we sat down together, and we talked, and we laughed,
and we fought, we played games, we discussed
dilemmas and newspaper articles. That is time I can account for. So whether your family include kids,
or just friends, or coworkers, whether the meal is soup and a salad, a PB&J sandwich, or three courses
and a homemade apple pie, family dinner will bring you all
great pleasure and help make sure
life doesn’t get away from you. As writer Francine Du Plessix Gray
once said so beautifully and I quote her: “Dinner rituals
have nothing to do with class or working women’s busy lives, or any particular family structure. I’ve had dinner of boiled potatoes
with families in Siberia, suppers of Deli cold cuts with single welfare mothers in Chicago; all made memorable by the grace
with which they were offered, and by the sight of youngsters learning through experience
the art of human companionship.” Thank you. (Applause)

About the author


  1. Global warming is a rip off created by Al Gore and a bunch of crooks to create a tax so forget about it

  2. Marta77inf: Global warming isn't real? First of all it's called climate change. Do you read newspapers, books or scientific studies? Do you watch the news (other than FOX (faux) News)? Anyone with a modicum of intelligence would realize that weather all around the World is changing at an accelerated pace.

  3. Gold digging whore stole 300 Million from Larry David. I wonder if his money contributed to her having a voice.

  4. I find it very difficult to take this person seriously when she doesn't walk her talk. And she's tried to make excuses for her unwillingness to walk her talk. Even after she pretended to be contrite for her hypocrisy. She paved over wetlands on her Martha's Vineyard estate. There is one thing worse than a bad person. And that is a bad person who tries to convince people they're not a bad person.

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