A shared family meal according is a symbolic occasion that should be valued in its importance and the benefits that arise from taking part in it (Story et al, 2005). The family in the video seems to value the family meal and go to great lengths to ensure that it is not encumbered by unnecessary interruptions. For instance, they ensure that they are punctual, fully washed up for dinner and that the table is set ahead of time and the food is ready and presentable.
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A shared family meal symbolizes the unity of a family, the love that the family members have for each other, its stability and capacity to remain together in whatever circumstance that may be prevailing in its internal or external environment (Mackenzie, 1993). This period emphasizes the joys that can be experienced from being a member of the family and gives the family members something to look forward to at the end of each day.
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In the context of the video from the 1950s, a shared family meal is important because it ensures a sense of connectedness within the family, gives the children an opportunity to interact with their parents/ caregivers and learn the basic rules of etiquette that enhance their social skills and prevent withdrawal tendencies. The meal times gives the older children a chance to teach the younger children the rules of the dinner table as can be seen by the behavior of ‘Brother’ towards ‘Junior’. The children are also taught the value of modesty and their responsibility to treat each of their family members with love, respect and courtesy (Eisenberg et al, 2004).
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On a broader sense, the family meal is important because it provides an opportunity for the caregiver to initiate checks and balances on the lives of the newly independent adolescents in order to prevent them from engaging in risky behavior, sinking in to depression or developing eating disorders (Eisenberg et al, 2004). The family meal is a critical influence on the dietary intake of the children and provides an opportunity to break away from their preference of consuming soft drinks and high calorie deep fried fast foods and consume fruit vegetables, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
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To conclude, the family meal is an important period for families as it enhances the bonds present within the family as well as providing an opportunity for the parents/caregivers to detect eating disorders, examine the behavior of their children in order to ascertain their psychological well-being and in this way, prevent the occurrence of, and treat changes in behavior and eating disorders respectively (Woodruff & Hanning, 2009).The family meal time thus ensures that they remain in great emotional health.
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How the traditional family meal has changed from the 1950s until now?
Changes in the family meal and the protocol involved while undertaking it are important since they provide insight to the cause of the shift in priorities that defined Canadian families in the 1950s the more informal way of living lives where things are not done out of obligation but out of choice (Eichler et al, 2012)
The traditional family meal as represented in the video is a far cry from the family meal that is enjoyed today by most Canadians. Wives and daughters seem to feel the need to dress well and look cheerful, relaxed and happy in front of their families, which is often not the case today. The meal also comprises a lot of protocol with the father being the one to serve the meal, first to the mother, then the daughter and finally the boys. It is also quite disrespectful to start eating before the hostess (mother) has started. These protocols are often not observed in this age.
The traditional family meal has undergone a tremendous amount of downgrading from the graceful ceremonial event at the end of the day of each family’s member’s day to a more casual event in those families that still continue to take part in it. Families today lead incredibly busy lives with heads of households and even children often having to work for long hours to meet the economic needs of the family or have incredibly demanding careers that leave no room for the punctuation of the long hours at the office with a pleasant evening with loved ones that the father of the family in the 1950’s video is enjoying (Story et al, 2005).
Moreover, if a family meal is undertaken it lacks the ceremonial protocol that perhaps made it so special in the first place. Little emphasis is placed on who serves whom at the dinner table and families have moved from the more formal traditional family meal displayed in the video from the 1950s to adopt a more relaxed attitude that does not give much consideration to protocol. Furthermore, due to the religious and ethnic diversity present in Canada along with the effect of modernization, it is not uncommon for members of the family to forego saying “Grace” before meals, unlike in the video where this prayer seems to have been very crucial.
To conclude, it can be posited that the rate of engagement in the family meal tradition has gone down significantly and families that still opt to allocate time for meals with their families often do so infrequently, in varying environments that do not necessarily have to be inside the home and may choose to order fast foods at a restaurant or ‘take-out’ as opposed to preparing elaborate meals in the kitchen like those prepared by ‘daughter’ and ‘mother’ in the video.
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