Myths and TV dinners

February 14, 1997

ANNE MURCOTT (THES, January 31) claims in her otherwise excellent article on the supposed demise of the family meal that there is little academic research which has focused on this topic. Our study of Leicester families is doing just that as we explore the role of television in food choice by comparing what happens in real families with TV images of family eating - TV being a key source of modern family mythology.

We asked a cross-section of more than 200 11-18 year olds about their family eating habits. Like the GoodHousekeeping survey we found that the family meal is the norm for about half of families; 52 per cent said that when eating at home they usually ate their meals with the rest of the family and slightly more said that the evening meal was a family affair.

Only 12 per cent reported family members eating separately. Follow-up interviews with families suggest that the "family meal" is highly valued across the social spectrum. It is often an occasion for talk and discussion and the most efficient way of feeding the family.

By contrast the family meal is not the norm in British TV programmes, which present a variety of family eating patterns. So Ms Murcott may be right in suggesting that some middle-class journalists and sociologists are misleading themselves into believing that what they see in their own lives represents a broader reality. Perhaps what they see on TV helps to convince them of this.

Roger Dickinson, lecturer and Simon Leader, research associate, Leicester University

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