Table Conversation

by Marcella Hazan on June 26, 2012

The Sunday Styles section of the New York Times usually lands on the floor before I read it, but a few Sunday’s ago I was intrigued by an article headed Table Talk: The New Family Dinner. I will read anything that has the words Family Dinner in its title. I was encouraged to find that family dinners still exist, but I was dismayed by the author’s description of the conversations that took place at her family’s table and at the tables of friends and others whom she interviewed. Her father used dinnertime to brief his wife on the ins and outs of his day in the office. In another family, the father would engage his sons in oral math puzzles. In yet another, the father led his children in debates about economic policy and civil rights issues. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago describes the debates on issues of the day that he and his brothers had at table as gladiatorial. And there are many other examples that you may want to read about in the article I have posted.

Not one instance was cited when the conversation was about food. At our family table, whether it was that of my parents or the one that my husband and I have shared for fifty-seven years, food may not have been the only topic of conversation, but it was a substantial and even passionate one. How can you sit down to dinner and express no interest in the dishes set before you, in their taste, their preparation, in how they compare with what you may have had a day or a year before? I have been to lunch sitting near businessmen who will munch their way through every morsel of the meal they have ordered without offering a single comment on it. In Italy, they would be talking of practically nothing else. When people go to the cinema, or the theater, or a concert, they come out at the end discussing what they have seen or heard. Is dinner any less an experience worth commenting on?