Monday, January 16, 2012

Keeping House Book Study Chapter 6

(vintage kitchen by janet hill)

This is chapter 6 of Keeping House:  A Litany of Everyday Life and is about Food to Eat.

"Food is so daily".   

And because of that,  it has a lot of significance to us as human being.   In the Bible, food is the occasion of the first sin, and food also becomes intrinsically connected with our salvation, prefigured in the Passover meal and in the manna in the desert, and then in the feeding of the five thousand, and finally coming to full significance in Jesus's declaration that He is the Bread of Life.    We are called upon as Christians to "feed the hungry"

This chapter is divided up into four aspects of food --  the eating of it, the food itself, the preparation of it, and who we eat with.    Since I have been up in Alaska visiting my mom I have been comparing how flexible and yet continuous these things are.

My mom likes to have things nice -- not rigidly perfect, just pretty nice.  She uses line-dried cotton or linen tablecloths and cloth placemats and napkins.  When I first came up here, since we were both ladies and we both eat fairly simply, we set out very simple meals three times a day.  But she has a lot of habits that keep even simple meals a ceremonial and pleasant occasion.  We set the table, we moved the food from cooking dish to serving dish, and we sat down to say a grace and eat.  My mom watches the news before dinner but always turns off the TV before sitting down to eat.   We make sure to have prepared a balance of fruit and vegetables, a wholegrain food and some meat or cheese or eggs.    We usually prepare the meals together, dividing up the little tasks.

In contrast, my boys' apartment in Eugene doesn't yet have a regular table and meals have to be plentiful and are often much less ceremonious.  They often eat in or around the kitchen and we use that chance to talk and sort of interact.

  And I noticed that when my brother showed up here, things were varied again.    My brother loves to cook (who knew?) and so he politely holds on to the kitchen proceedings and gets everything set up and prepared before calling us to eat.   Since he's a pastor he has often been reading a Psalm or improvising a grace since he showed up. 

What I am thinking is that food, its preparation and what it is and who serves it, and how it is served and eaten, are a very interesting mixture of individuality and commonality.   You probably can get a better idea of a family or society culture by watching how the meal is prepared and served and eaten, than almost any other way.

Meals are also a kind of teaching and learning through action.   But it's not the directly didactic kind of teaching; it's more like a teaching by participation.

So, perhaps a good time to reflect on meals you have partaken of in past years, what they said about what was going on, how these occasions look in your own family, and what you would like them to look like.     Since it's the New Year, it's a good time to reflect on your systems and what direction you want them to go in.  Any other reflections or rabbit trails on this chapter would also be welcome!


  1. Hi Willa,

    We have some great times in the kitchen. Andy likes to cook and the kids like to help. I like to sit on a stool and watch! We chat and laugh and have fun. Of course, cooking on work days is a bit different. The girls will usually cook the dinner because Andy gets home too late from school to do it. They have watched Andy, seen how much fun he has cooking and now they all want to get involved.

    We sit at the table and talk while we eat. Sometimes I think it would be easier not to bother with the formalities of setting the table and sitting down together but I think it is worth the effort. We have had some wonderful discussions around the table. I think we would talk less together if we were more informal.

    We were laughing at the table last night at something that maybe wasn't what I call 'table talk' (was it something about lice?). I turned to my son's girlfriend and said, "I bet your family doesn't talk about such things at the table" and my son replied that her family never eat dinner at the table. It's funny how you just assume everyone does things the same way as your family. But I guess it's the individual way you do things that bind a family together.

    Willa, I just noticed the Mister Linky. I hope you don't mind if I just post this comment here and don't write something longer to link to!

    I enjoyed your post. Now I am thinking about food and preparation and tables...

  2. HI Willa. I hope things are going well with your mom. I enjoyed this chapter. At least I remember enjoying this chapter. I can't say I exactly remember the chapter though! Guess I'll pick it up again and refresh my memory. I struggle with meal times. I blame it on many things. My dad was an alcoholic and I remember hating to have to sit down at dinner time and be trapped at the table while he was drunk. It was a daily exercise is humiliation and pain. So while we do set the table and sit and eat dinner together. It is much more casual then when I was growing up. And I let the kids leave when the want and eat what they want. My husband is never home during the regular work week to eat dinner with us. And since I've been with the kids pretty much all day, it felt artificial to make a big deal out of dinner. And this past year there is an extra strain at dinner because my aunt is here. I'm very aware of my kids table manners or lack thereof, yet I hate correcting them in front of her. She's hard of hearing and often just doesn't understand what the kids are saying. They'll be going on and on about computer games and she's completely left out of the conversation. And she fixates on whether they've eaten all their dinner. It drives her batty that I don't force them to finish their food! So it is really strained to say the least! But I hope to get around to writing my own post on this chapter. I love the way the author parses apart every single aspect of housekeeping/cooking. All those attitudes we don't even realize we have. And I found the chapter inspirational because I'm on a cooking kick where I'm trying hard to be more intentional and more healthy. Anyway, thanks for this post! Take care!

  3. "...few acts of care compare with being fed when one is hungry."
    This rings true for me, as a person whose metabolism creates a lot of hunger and accompanying grumpiness during hunger. I love to be fed by family or friends, it is an intimate generosity.

    "...if we make realistic plans, shop for quality ingredients, and take adequate time to prepare them, we can make real food that truly satisfies. And perhaps our willing engagement with the realities of food and cooking will spill over into deeper engagement with other realities of life..."
    Making realistic plans is key to this. I do plan our meals, and I do it with calendar in hand because knowing which days I have time to cook in the afternoon versus which days need something in the crockpot in the morning or even quick sandwiches later is vital to making it possible to eat real food together as a family. Without realistic plans, it is too easy to fall back on fast food.

  4. I'm sorry I've fallen behind on this. I hope to catch up, but I don't think I will be able to this week. I'm sorry!

  5. No pressure, Jessica and Sue! The Mr Linky is just there to make it easier if anyone wants to link a post, and I think holiday season makes it notoriously hard to keep going with things like this. I'm relieved that you are still paying attention at all.

    It was interesting to hear how different people manage their meal times. This chapter gave me a lot to think about, even if I had trouble writing it out.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!