From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Fast food: an unholy development?

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the March 22, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

You’ll find one in every town in America. Fast Food Heaven. A street lined on both sides with McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, and more.

But now an Italian theologian tells us what we may have suspected all along. The “heavenliness” of fast food is questionable. Father Massimo Salani goes so far as to say fast food “is not Catholic. It completely forgets the holiness of food.”

His pronouncements drew disapproval faster than a teenager smashing a packet of ketchup in a crowded booth. The Italian newspaper Il Messagero proclaimed the “excommunication of the hamburger.”

McDonald’s Italia wasted no time in assuring the public a Big Mac and fries are compatible with the world’s faiths.

But Father Salani will not be silenced. He’s written a book about how faith and food are related. He says eating quickly and alone is the antithesis of receiving the Eucharist, which we do together in celebration as a community.

In many parishes when children prepare to receive First Eucharist, parents are reminded that the experience of family meal times is primary in a child’s understanding of the sacrament. What is meal time teaching our kids?

In the United States, 50 percent of all meals consumed are fast food. And even the drive-through is becoming too slow. Diners in a hurry can now buy the world’s simplest sandwich, a Smuckers PB&J, ready to eat, with the crusts already cut off. Or for breakfast, there’s Milk’n Cereal bars with Cheerios on the outside and real milk filling. If that’s not fast enough for you, check out the nutritional drinks now on the market. These one-handed meals are perfect for on-the-go eating.

Roger Enrico, Chairman of PepsiCo, says consumers demand such products because of “the continued deconstruction of meals.” The director of brand development for Lipton Tea, Steve Luttman, says, “We’ve heard kids say they find it inconvenient to eat an apple or peel an orange.”

Who’d a-thunk it? Sitting down for a home-cooked family meal has become counter-cultural. We’ll eat while driving, watching TV, but relax and talk about the day’s events? Listen to one another? Resolve disputes and voice affection and appreciation? Nope.

Can these things happen over fast food? Certainly. Will they? Maybe.

To cultivate the kind of relationships modeled by Christ and celebrated in the Eucharist takes time. Fast food turns eating into feeding. Animals feed; people dine.

Father Salani is not the only voice rising to protest fast food. An international movement started in Italy and spreading around the world, “Slow Food,” endeavors to revive the pleasures and benefits of savoring rather than scarfing. Slow Food devotees seek to enjoy the flavor, freshness and texture of food. They delight in sharing meals and in the knowledge of where and how our food is produced. One Slow Food project helps farmers in Nicaragua recover agricultural land, another saves fruits and vegetables at risk of extinction, and another promotes regional cuisine in danger of dying as our tastes become homogenized.

I’m not saying dinner time is perfect at the Farrell house. Sometimes cross words are spoken; sometimes food flies. Manners are — well, improving.

But we’re all in the same room together, and we’re paying attention. You may have to wait to speak, or shout, but you will get heard. The children may argue over who leads the blessing, but at least they’re praying. Just as the menu feeds our body’s need for nutrients, the gathering and spending time together on a daily basis nourishes our spirits and family bonds. Most parents love their children, but one couple told me, they like theirs, and they learned to like them at dinner.

A mother of six says meal times together taught them to listen. She says, “We involve each person, from youngest to oldest, and try to give our heartfelt attention to details from the teen’s volley ball game, to the preschooler’s latest art project. We discuss hard issues, too: Bill Clinton and Monica, racism in our town, friends who are unexpectedly pregnant, using drugs, or losing a parent to cancer. Lots of life happens over spaghetti.”

The life that happens around the family table (whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner) may not be heavenly, but it can sure help keep us heading in that direction.

(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance journalist and children’s writer.)

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