retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

So, yesterday was “Family Day.”

Since 2001, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA* Columbia) have used Family Day as a focal point for a national movement that they say is “encouraging parents to frequently eat dinner with their kids and be involved in their children’s lives. CASA Columbia’s research consistently finds that the more often kids eat dinner with their families; the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. Those kids are also more likely to make better grades in school and to say they have an excellent relationship with their parents and they are less likely to have friends who smoke, drink or use drugs.”

I buy that. All of it.

But I would gently suggest that what we need is not so much a Family Day, or even a Family Week, or a Family Month. We need something much bigger.

The thing is, every once in a while I’ll read a column or see a pundit talk about the importance of families eating together, and it’ll be like this person has discovered the Fountain of Youth, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy Grail all in one convenient location. And that amazes me, since this research has been around for a decade ... and then I remind myself that I’m aware of it because I’ve been writing about this industry and these issues for so long. Other people, not so much.

I also have a predisposition to buy into this argument because the family dinner has always been a core value in my own household - not just once a year or even once a week, but pretty much every night. (However you feel about Barack Obama, I think it speaks well of him that whenever he is in Washington, he makes it a point to have a family dinner with his wife and daughter. And whatever you think of this country, I don;t think it speaks well of our culture that when this is reported, it is with the subtext that this is some kind of anomaly.)

I’d like to see the nation’s food retailers and food suppliers join together for a broad, aggressive and ambitious public information campaign that would have as its goal making sure that the family dinner research is top of mind for everyone in the US.

It should not even be hard to appeal to other businesses - people who make and sell dining room tables, for example - to get them involved. Or enlisting advertising agencies to get their participation. Can’t you imagine the public service announcements? (Betcha you could get the Obamas to do one. And it seems like a pretty good bet that most of the GOP presidential candidates would support this whole notion.)

We all have a stake in this, and it is time to blow up “Family Day”and make it something even more profound and expansive. At stake is nothing less than the future of the next generation of Americans. This is the right time for what has been the right idea, and now must become a really, really big idea.

Before it is too late.
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