Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Back in the 1950s, Americans would occasionally stumble upon a hot dog or hamburger stand along their way. However, today’s fast food outlets are everywhere. We cannot hide from the constant beckoning to taste their delights. McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell and many others pop up in malls, amusement parks, train stations, airports, on highways and in city centers.
We are a nation committed to fast foods. Every day, 25 percent of adults and 20 percent of young people in America dine on fast foods. Just 25 years ago, families spent three-fourths of their food budget for meals at home. Today, they use half their food budget to eat out, most often at fast food establishments (cf. Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, 2001).
In the last 30 years, the fast food industry has changed our diet. But, more than that, fast food chains have had their impact on our way of life. They have facilitated the culture of a people on the move. Sports events, work, exercise classes and social engagements draw us away from time with our families. We eat on the run because we are busy about many things.
The Norman Rockwell portrait of the family gathered around the dinner table is quickly becoming a faded memory for most households. The majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. This disappearance of the family meal coincides with the tragic loss of the importance of family in our society. Percentage-wise, America has more one-person households than any other nation. Our divorce rate is a staggering 42 percent of all married couples.
Nonetheless, the disintegration of the family can be halted by the family meal. Time together at the table provides the needed space for family members to connect and share their lives in a secure setting. The family meal nourishes the body and the soul. It strengthens values, promotes self-esteem and establishes personal identity.
Thanksgiving Day is our family meal as a nation. We break our everyday hectic routines and sit at table not only as individual families but also as a country. As Americans, all of us, regardless of race, creed and social status, celebrate this unique national holiday. We honor no great hero of our national history. We commemorate no battle fought or victory won over our enemies. Rather, we thank God for the blessings which he gives us as a nation and the gifts which he generously bestows on us as individuals.
Gathered around the table, we remember our family heritage. We recount the familiar stories that tie our lives together. We reconnect with those loved ones at the table and those far away. We reminisce of parents and relatives already called by God to sit at his table in heaven.
Furthermore, our Thanksgiving meal grounds us in our identity as a nation. It joins us to the countless individuals who have been celebrating Thanksgiving ever since the first time that the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians held their celebration in 1621. Our Thanksgiving table laden with food reminds us of the abundant material and spiritual blessings we enjoy and of our personal responsibility to share our gifts with the less fortunate at our very doorstep.
On Thanksgiving Day, we leave aside our fast-food routines. We find the time to dine together and to enjoy each other’s company. What a blessing! A family that dines together stays together. A nation that sits at table together, blessing and thanking God, remains united and strong.