Well Being

In Defense of Eating Dinner In Front of the TV

By  | 

photo: theturtlerestaurant.blogspot.com

Every night after work, I come home, make dinner (or pick it up on the way), and open my laptop. Will I catch up on work emails while I eat my Pad Thai? No. Skype chat with far-away family members while tossing back my taco? Nope. I’m going to have dinner with two of my closest friends: Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy.

I didn’t grow up eating dinner in front of a blaring boob tube. My family broke out the TV trays only when something of paramount importance coincided with dinnertime. Presidential debates, for instance, or new episodes of The Simpsons. But even as a child, watching TV during meals was a social experience. We’d never eat silently, ignoring each other while devoting all our attention to Homer. Yes, we’d whisper respectfully during the program, but every commercial break was a free-for-all. Even as I got older, TV shows became the foundation of future conversations. We’d spend dinners at the table debating the mysteries of The Sopranos, so watching TV together was basically group research.

When we did bring meals into the living room, we chose quality programming while we got our sustenance. We passed over Everybody Loves Raymond in favor of Frasier. The latter led to an interest in broadcasting and fine wines, and may have laid the foundation for my preference for thin, nervous men. Even now, when I head back to my hometown for the holidays, I know that at least a meal or two will be consumed in the family room, with my parents and brothers bent over trays, catching up with each other, and some good old-fashioned (or new this season) TV. They may re-watch something they’ve already seen (I’m way too cheap for premium channels), but they do so for my benefit — in order to share with me something they'd enjoyed, like a good book or a piece of homemade cake.

In college, eating in front of the TV simply became a habit — you try fitting a kitchen table into a dorm room. Yes, that means I often ate on my bed, and no, I’m not ashamed of it. Of course, like many undergrads, I shuffled down to the dining hall for most of my meals. But every so often, when I was alone, I’d bring my food up to my room for an evening of simultaneous nourishment and entertainment. It comforted me, and, in a way, it still does.

Once graduated from dorm life and got a proper kitchen table, my roommates and I bastardized it. It became more of a large shelf than a place from which to eat. The living room coffee table worked better for meals, anyway. And if you were eating alone, why not see what Jon Stewart had to say? My roommates felt the same way. But, once a month we’d clear off the kitchen table and cook an actual meal together. Unfortunately, tensions about household duties or unwelcome guests usually arose. I’d find myself wishing we hadn’t even tried to eat like civilized people facing each other and sitting upright at the table. We should've just marched our plates into the living room — after all, Lorelai and Rory never squabbled over chores or dining habits.

I’m also an efficient person. To my mind, watching TV while eating saves time. I can catch up on my shows during dinner, and leave the rest of my evenings open for other things. (Like watching clips on the Internet, or texting.) But seriously, watching a TV show or two over a meal opens up my post-work schedule for something like, say, cleaning the bathroom. Last Friday evening, because I caught up on the latest Biggest Loser episode on Hulu while enjoying my Caesar salad, I had no excuse to put off scrubbing the tub come 8 p.m. Yes, sometimes I clean my bathroom on Friday nights. Who’s the biggest loser now?

By now I'm sure you assume that my romantic life is pathetic at best, and I don't blame you. Spending dinnertime gazing at True Blood‘s Sookie and Bill doesn't leave a girl much time for feeding a gentleman friend a home-cooked meal by candlelight. But I’d say you’re missing the point. My boyfriend and I enjoy plenty of romantic dinners together — snuggling on the couch, watching Community. The giggles and glances we share are ten times more intimate than even the dimmest corner table at the fanciest restaurant. Spending four nights a week laugh/crying at the boob tube? Well, let’s just say it's a bond that no mid-season cancellation could ever break.

I’d also argue that my affinity for eating while the TV is on should be a testament to my multi-tasking skills. Not everyone can accurately navigate piping-hot spaghetti into their mouths (without spilling sauce) while closely following the plot lines of an episode of The Wire. I attribute my deftness to hours of training, not to mention the underrated practice of sneaking burritos into movie theaters.

Many a gourmand would scold me for not fully appreciating the quality, textures, tastes, and smells of my dinner. While that’s a legitimate argument, I think stretching out my meal over the length of two sitcoms actually lets me eat more slowly, and therefore savor the more subtle nuances of the dish. Plus, let’s be honest: I’m not eating five-star meals every night. I’d say the meals I cook myself at home are slightly above-average, and the take-out cuisine I pick up tasty. So, until I’m able to whip up an epicurean feast, I believe that my habit of laptop/TV dining is appropriate. Devoting my full attention to an Amy’s Burrito would just be pathetic.

So, as you sit down at your dinner table tonight, with nothing to occupy your mind aside from the mountain of work awaiting you (or a tense conversation about what to get your mother-in-law for Christmas), I’ll be on my couch, feet up, sandwich in hand. And something tells me I’ll be deeply engrossed in whether House and Cuddy finally get together (no spoilers, please). My mind will be at ease; my stomach will be full. Because if you ever get bored with your table for two or three or four, your TV will be waiting.

comments