But in the United States, dining together doesn’t happen often. According to Massachusetts General Hospital’s Family Dinner Project, 70 percent of meals are eaten at home each week, and fewer than 1 in 3 families eat together twice a week, on average.
Although the Thanksgiving table is a rare opportunity to bring people together for a meal, the conversation there is uniquely rich. The table consists of a mix of people who don’t usually spend time together – chatty grandmas and teenagers, picky eaters and enthusiastic noshers, laid-back friends and holiday imbibers, vegetarians and turkey lovers, liberals and conservatives, skilled chefs and bad cooks, vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Alice Julier, a professor of food studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, said she often talks to students who are interested in returning home for holiday meals.
“There’s nothing like a holiday meal to focus on what has or hasn’t changed over the course of a year,” said Julier, author of “Eating Together: Food, Friendship and Inequality.” “It gives you an opportunity to evaluate. Who’s aged? Who’s deepened their quirks or belief systems? Who’s changed their eating habits? It all comes together in one day, one meal.
One way to get the best out of holiday conversation is to know what’s what not to talk about. We’ve gathered advice from the Family Dinner Project and other experts to help you steer clear of dangerous conversations, and be prepared to protect your diners from the kind of table chatter that ruins the appetite. Here’s what they had to say.
Do not comment on what others are eating
While it’s fine to compliment the chef or talk about how much you love sweet potato casserole, avoid making comments or jokes about what others are eating or not eating. Discussion of food choices puts children at risk for eating disorders. And it can be a trigger for adults with a history of disordered eating. And your comments about the food on someone’s plate are not welcome. Examples of food shaming range from “You eat like a bird” to “Are you going to eat it all?”
Stop talking about wine
Be aware if one or more of your guests is recovering from an alcohol use disorder. Excessive discussion of wine or alcoholic beverages may make them uncomfortable. When you have a quiet guest at the table, place wine and spirits on separate tables so the bottles don’t pass around them.
Don’t ask students about grades, school problems, or college plans
For young children, discussing bad grades or problems at school at the dinner table can make them dread eating with the family. High school students are stressed enough — the last thing they want to talk about on Thanksgiving is the college application process.
Avoid asking people about having children or getting married
What is it about holiday gatherings that prompts some people to discuss reproduction? Lots of people are child-free by choice. Others may be dealing with infertility or a recent miscarriage. Either way, “it happens,” “don’t give up” and “will you try again?” Even well-intentioned comments like Intrusive and often painful. And while we’re on the subject, single people don’t want to be grilled about their relationship prospects.
Political conversations are a fast way to derail the vibe of the celebration. Tempers can flare and people can pick apart their opinions if they differ from most of those at the table. If the discussion turns to politics or if a person starts advocating political beliefs you don’t agree with, don’t try to change their mind over dinner. Instead, be prepared to change the subject.
And remember, whether you’re the host or the guest, everyone needs to protect themselves from time to time. Pay attention to multi-person tables and intervene if grandparents are criticizing a child’s eating habits. Save the only person at the table from checking the questions. If the discussion turns to politics, be prepared to jump in. The Family Dinner Project offers several holiday conversation starters (“What’s your favorite family tradition?” “If you started a charity, who would it help?” “If you had one superpower, what would it be?”) and printable place mats with questions guests can ask each other.
Despite the potential dangers of holiday conversation, there is also the potential joy of reconnecting with family and friends. And if things don’t go perfectly, that’s okay too.
“Thanksgiving meal unfortunately brings out tensions, but tensions aren’t always bad. We learn who we are,” Julier said. “The only thing I tell students is to be prepared, be prepared and don’t take it all in. And try to enjoy the meal.
This week, we turn to physician, public health professor, and Post contributing columnist Lena S. to answer a reader’s question. We asked Ven. Dr. To hear more from Wen and for more guidance on Covid-19 and other topics, Dr. Sign up for an inspection with Ven.
“I have family and friends invited to my son’s wedding in Costa Rica in January 2023. What are the best covid test requirements (for waxed and unwaxed) and instructions for us to send and request them before flying on two flights three days before the wedding and once there, activities starting the day before the wedding ? – Michael from California
Dr. Wen replies: The question for your son and soon-to-be spouse is how strongly they feel about a Covid-free marriage. If they want to prioritize, you can suggest strict precautions including testing.
This includes all guests wearing an N95 or equivalent mask (KN95 or KF94) in all indoor public settings at least three days prior to the wedding. They should avoid indoor restaurants and gatherings with non-household members during this period. Then, they must take a rapid test upon arrival in Costa Rica. Continue to avoid indoor spaces with others who are not part of the wedding party and only participate in outdoor activities before the start of the wedding.
Finally, take another test on the day of the wedding. If indoor gatherings with guests are planned on other days, they should continue self-imposed quarantine and daily testing and gather indoors only with other wedding guests.
That’s enough precautions. Most hosts probably don’t want their guests to ask. A less cumbersome request is for everyone to take two rapid tests, once upon arrival in Costa Rica and then on the day of the wedding. I think it is reasonable to ask all guests to wear a good quality mask in crowded places like airports.
And congratulations on your son! I think they have a wonderful marriage.
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