When people of my parents’ generation got married, one of the wedding gifts they could reasonably expect to receive was a dinner service.
It was a major and expensive gift, sometimes bought piecemeal by different friends or relations, depending on their financial circumstances.
Just how far we have travelled from that world was underlined by research this week. It revealed that, when it comes to buying crockery, fashions are changing fast. Bowls now outsell plates.
Not by a little bit either. Something like 40 per cent of all the crockery bought here in the UK now has a high, food-corralling rim. Sales of plates, by contrast, now account for just nine per cent of the market.
Why the shift?
The researchers speculate that responsibility partly lies with social media. Diners reportedly want to photograph their efforts in the kitchen and, before eating it, want to share it online. A bowl, apparently, is more apt for this act of ostentatious cookery.
This is what my parents’ generation would have called ‘showing off’, but which is now considered the hallmark of a fully-engaged human being.
Less trivially there is another – and more disturbing – twist to this trend.
Instagram may have something to do with this newfound passion for bowls, but by far the greater cause is our evolving (should that be ‘regressing’?) eating habits.
You see, bowls work better than plates, when food is eaten on the sofa. That is the real driver at work and, as the Home Renaissance Foundation has highlighted before, this retreat from the dining table, is to be lamented.
Our patron and celebrated chef, Richard Corrigan, has written compellingly for the HRF about the societal, familial and individual health benefits of family dining.
A growing corpus of research underlines the importance of families coming together to share a meal, away from the distractions of televisions or other electronic devices.
Data shows that the simple act of sitting down together, often at an appointed hour, to break bread and share news of the day endows young people with soft-skills and much-needed ‘emotional capital’.
They learn good manners and good conversation. Without them, the very social mobility of youngsters is jeopardised.
Conversely, households where individuals eat when they like, usually in front of the TV, sitting on a sofa (and, as we now know, often eating from a bowl) suffer.
Exposure to ‘risky’ behaviours increases, negative outcomes which include obesity and depression.
Of all the simple activities that a good, nurturing home should promote, the case for family dining is the most convincing.
Families that do sit down to enjoy food together, need not break out the full dinner service. They could even eat from a bowl. But they must sit down together, unencumbered by the manifold distractions of the digital age, and eat, talk and listen.