Eating with friends or family is usually more enjoyable than eating alone. But eating with others also has health benefits, including lower obesity and substance abuse.
A publicity campaign called Billion Family Dinners Challenge is now encouraging people to eat more meals together. Its DinnerCall app, for iOS and Android, helps users track shared meals, snap photos, and post them to social media. This will “point the trajectory of society towards a more loving, inclusive, and healthy attitude,” the site says.
Skeptical about the fetishisztion of the “perfect family” or of encouraging yet more dinner-table phone use? Don’t worry. Here, “family” is defined as any group of two or more. It could be the familiar nuclear meltdown of two parents and two kids, or just you and a homeless person eating together on the same park bench. In the eyes of Billion Dinners, these are the same. The important thing is to share a meal with somebody.
The Challenge defines family dinner as “two or more people, sitting down together over a shared meal, being present in the moment.” But doesn’t snapping photos of your dinner with the app or “tracking the number of people you’ve eaten with, your total number of minutes around the table, and long-term averages” impact the lofty goal of “being present in the moment”? Not according to Ron Adair, CEO of Spokt, a paid social network for small groups that is part of the project.
“Rather than shunning technology at the table, we hope to encourage families to use DinnerCall to amplify the message,” says Adair. Given that teens are likely to be using their phones during mealtimes, no matter what you tell them, this might not be a bad idea, especially as teens benefit from being forced to eat with their families.
The app even helps out with any awkward silences or arguments that might arise. Not only does it offer “helpful conversation starters” for those who’ve lost the ability to communicate with other humans, it also lets you “track other family dinners in progress.” I can see this being a great way to bully teens into complying. “Look, all these families can manage to eat a meal together,” you can mutter at your sullen offspring, employing the time-honored motivation of guilt to get the job done.
There really isn’t anything much sadder than grazing on a sandwich as its crumbs sprinkle onto your keyboard like doughy dandruff, so anything that gets people together should be encouraged. But when the example of a successful family meal, featured in a screenshot used to promote the app, reads, “My family just spent 8 minutes around the dinner table,” I can’t help thinking they’ve set the bar a little low.