Thursday, October 28, 2010

'If God had intended us to follow recipes, he wouldn't have given us Grandmothers.'

The Family Dinners is a beautifully-produced new book by Laurie David, film producer, environmental campaigner, activist, and Mum, and her cook Kirsten Uhrenholdt, with illustrations by me.

Now wait, stop there - cook? The woman has a cook? Yes, she does. Once you've read the head-spinning list of things Laurie does for a living - including the all-consuming environmental activism which partly powered this book into life (she co-produced Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' amongst other monumental achievements), you can understand why she decided something had to go. 'I initially dismissed the idea of help because my my middle-class upbringing made me uncomfortable about accepting it,' she says. 'How do you hire someone to do what Moms are supposed to do?'

However, Kirsten was indeed hired, and hers and Laurie's joint production is this book, advocating the urgent importance of eating together as a family at least once a day. The statistics are that only half of modern western families eat together more than 3-5 times a week (note that's 3-5 meals, not 3 days!) Most meals last less than 20 minutes, and most are eaten in front of the TV. On average, children today spend almost seven and a half hours a day using some form of electronic media. People claim they 'don't have time to cook', but somehow the western hemisphere has found an additional two hours a day to 'go online'. And these facts have a proven link to obesity, communication problems within families, diabetes, children's developing social skills and family closeness. Dinner times at a table with other people enable children (and indeed, some adults) to learn and develop social skills and protocols, the art of conversation, and mutual co-operation with prep, cooking and post-dinner cleanup. Training them, if you like, to fit into a civilised human society.

But there is a lot more to this book than that. The recipes are delicious and easy, the writing is relaxed and readable, and include basic rules for a successful dinnertime: everyone must show up at the same time, the same meal for everyone, everyone must try all of the food at least once, no electronic devices - that includes the adults - no TV, everyone helps clean up after-wards.

My illustrations are dotted throughout the book and on the cover, as well as being used on a set of endpapers - the first time I've done one of those. All drawn in ink with digital colour (for speed and flexibility), they enliven the book's sensitive typography and bright, down-to-earth writing.
To finish, I think this person sums it up very nicely indeed.
'Among the many wonderful things about being president, the best is that I get to live above the office and see my family every day. We have dinner every night. It is the thing that sustains me'.
President Barack Obama.

(Oh and what's the book standing on? This! The De-Luxe Book Spider. Dating from at least the 1960s, but we suspect earlier. Every home should have one.)

The book has its own website:

Read about Laurie here:

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