The Hour That Matters Most

Perhaps I’ve been immersed in the world of foodies for too long, but I would’ve expected Les & Leslie Parrott to give a few props to the food movement–beyond pointing out that a movement called Slow Food exists (!)–in their new book, The Hour That Matters Most.

They could have said more about the qualitative difference of a meal cooked at home as opposed to something brought in from the takeout place. Or talked about WHY eating together–as opposed to just sitting around a table together sans food–is transformative and important. But most of this book is merely a repackaging Parrott’s relationship and communication advice (in other words, how to communicate around the table, which–surprise!–turns out to be quite similar to how we communicate away from the table!) combined with statistics on the importance of family meals that have been presented much more artfully, appealingly, and compellingly elsewhere, namely, Miriam Weinstein’s Surprising Power of Family Meals and Laurie David’s The Family Dinner. Yes, family dinners are very important, and there are lots and lots of well documented reasons what that’s so and lots and lots of statistics from university studies that show you why you really really should have dinners with your family. But you don’t need this book to tell you that.

In a book about family dinners, I would have liked to have heard at least a few insightful remarks about FOOD. Frankly, I feel it’s kind of unconscionable to bring a book out like this with seemingly no awareness of what is happening in the world of food, from La Cosecha/The Harvest to, oh yes, slaughterhouse workers or the immense and egregious environmental destruction and animal suffering wrought by the food system. It seems like everyone else has at least an inkling that there’s an ethical aspect to eating and food choices, so why not the Parrotts? There’s also no mention of childhood obesity, or of the fact that diet related disease continues to climb in our country. The Parrotts repeat frequently that they don’t want to make you feel guilty, and that they don’t want this to be hard for you to do. So there’s nothing in there that’s going to make anyone uncomfortable or unhappy.

(Except perverse people like me who think maybe a little discomfort is GOOD FOR US and actually leads to greater joy. But in seriousness, another major problem with the book is that it’s pretty exclusively focused on parents with children at home. It says virtually nothing–nothing that I remember, anyway–about people without children eating together, let alone single people. I happen to be a parent with children at home, but I’m seriously uncomfortable on behalf of readers who don’t. Ugh.)

And although the book is released by Tyndale House, it is, frankly, embarrasingly lite on Christianity. Beyond pointing out the psychological benefits of believing in God–or even just a higher power or cause–(and how that belief can be transmitted round the dinner table), there’s nothing in this book that’s going to offend ANYone, except, of course, people who care about the ethics of eating and, you know, the Bible. At the risk of sounding like a total Bible-thumper (or at least, like a person who’s been trying for the last 6 years to figure out what the Bible says and doesn’t say about food and eating), I’m astounded that the Parrotts could release a book on the family dinner and say almost nothing about all that food and fellowship mean in the life of God’s people, from the manna in the wilderness to the wedding at Cana to the last supper to Acts’ love feasts. And since when does “Christian book” (which, being published by Tyndale House, this is supposed to be) mean vaguely religious feel-good writing in which the topic at hand is in no way approached from a perspective resembling anything that Christianity either is or ever has been?

(but it IS good fodder for Jon Acuff, see Stuff Christians Like #1.)

{William Tyndale is SO not amused.}

But maybe worst of all, the parts of the book that actually do address food directly function as little more than a thinly-veiled advertisement for Written in collaboration with the two founders of this meal-prep company–a nationwide “meal-assembly” franchise with over 130 locations nationwide–the book advertises itself as including “never before published recipes” and “expert cooking tips,” but ventures no further than bottled barbecue sauce slow cooker recipes and casseroles using “nonfat pasteurized egg products.” Though the book claims to want to reverse the cultural trend towards “fast and easy” and “microwaved,” its recipes fall firmly within the genre of recipe that exploded in the post WW2 years, namely, the industrial kitchen recipe. And again, because the book is more a repackaging of communication advice than a book about food, they jab at folks who microwave various things for various members of the family but don’t provide a compelling reason WHY you shouldn’t do that or WHY you should make a casserole (or something) instead.

Bottom line? This book is not worth anyone’s time, and certainly not anyone’s money; it feels to me like a book written pretty nearly exclusively for the purpose of transferring cash from the wallets of readers to those belonging to the authors and publishers. Read The Family Dinner if you want facts plus great pictures and recipes (my review of that is here) and The Surprising Power of Family Meals if you want a more thoughtful commentary on all the compelling data surrounding the importance of family meals (sans pictures and recipes).

Tomorrow, we’ll look more closely at some of those statistics on the power of eating together. Meanwhile? Send me a message or leave a comment with YOUR questions and ideas on {food, faith, family; joyful justice & bread of life.} I’ll do my best to address them in upcoming posts. With recipes! And pictures! And joy.

7 thoughts on “The Hour That Matters Most

  1. Well, I guess I won’t read this one :o) That’s okay, I’m not crazy about their other stuff either, so I probably wouldn’t have chosen it. But I would love to read “The Family Dinner” if I can get my hands on it – fingers crossed for the Fife Library System.

    I just found your blog (I’m not on facebook much) and have enjoyed it the past couple days. It has been especially fun to catch the photos of your boys! Anyway, I always love simple whole food recipes, so I’ll be around.

  2. Wow, so many thoughts in response to this! I’ll go with this one: I am really shocked at what I see in the Christian bookstore world today. It’s truly shameful.

  3. I love this book review. I love how honest and forthright you are.

    I’d love to hear what you have to say about the linked importance of family dinners and what is served at those dinners. Family dinners are a priority in our house. They happen almost every night. Sometimes in the spring, when my middle child has softball practices and games during the dinner hour (one of my many pet peeves with youth sports), we don’t. Although then we often end up sharing pizza on the sidelines with another family, which is a different sort of family dinner I suppose.

    Anyway, the family dinner part is a no-brainer to me. What to serve is harder, and I go through very different phases. I’ll go through a few weeks of making real, homecooked food. Because my kids are each picky in their own way, I may modify something or provide a dinner that each person can easily customize: steak with chimichurri wrapped in tortillas with veggies for me and my husband, cheese quesadillas for the kids, fruit for everyone, that sort of thing. But then I often burn out on the home cooked stuff. Part of it is physical fatigue due to my bone disorder; I struggle some nights to stay on my feet for all the time required to cook a real meal. So I end up going through phases of using Trader Joe’s frozen meals, boxed mac and cheese, pasta with jarred sauce, etc. I even went through a Dream Dinners phase, though I quit when I realized that 1) my kids didn’t eat much of it, and 2) everything kind of ends up tasting the same.

    So I guess I’d like to hear more about your take on family dinners and how their benefits are linked (or not linked) to what is served.

  4. Oh, forgot one thing about Dream Dinners. Our kids’ school principal once told me that family dinners are an absolute must in his house. But he is a school principal, his wife is a teacher, and his twin daughters are busy high schoolers. So they rely on Dream Dinners because it means that, if several of them have evening commitments, which is frequent, they can sit down for a family meal at any time. It might be 4:30. It might be 9:00. But it happens no matter what, and for them Dream Dinners allows it to happen. So I thought that was interesting.

    1. Ellen, thanks for your comments! Per se, Dream Dinners are fine: I’m all for family dinners happening even if it’s take out! I’m all for the idea of redemptive movement, you know–start where you are and move incrementally to where you want to be! My objection to the book functioning as an ad for DD is that it claims to give you the tools to make dinners happen on your own, and then basically turns around and suggests you may as well book a Dream Dinners appointment. Something about that bothers me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with freedom and divinely given creativity–I’ll keep you posted!

      (I LOVE the idea of pizza at the kids’ games! It’s good to get the Cleavers’ dinnertime out of our head: there are other ways to do this thing!)

      And I like your suggestion about customizable meals–that’s something we try to do, too. While I try to follow the rule of “one meal for everyone,” I also want my kids actually to EAT something. I’m going to address kids eating tomorrow (9/8) so stay tuned!

      Thanks, again, for commenting! And for reading!

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