Dinner In New York

Observations February 5, 2015 10:58 am

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Have you seen this fascinating photo series? Photographer Miho Aikawa captures New Yorkers eating dinner in an effort to show how eating has moved from a primary activity to a seconding activity:

“We now do almost 50 percent of our eating food consumption while concentrating on something else.”

It’s not hard to guess what that something else is: screen time. Rather than sit down to a meal as a family and concentrate on each other, we’re now concentrating on our phones, computer screens, or TVs. And we’re eating alone. Flip through the photos for yourself, but after looking at all twenty-one photos I compiled a quick excel sheet to look at a few data points:

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A few things jumped out at me:

1. Dinner time is not 6PM. This could be a New York phenomenon, where people typically work later, but thirteen of the diners ate their meals after 7p, and eight of these meals happened after 8p. This is something I can relate to– we never eat dinner before 8p on a weeknight, and it’s really common to eat closer to 8:30p. Which is why services like Blue Apron are such a godsend– if you’re eating that late, anything helps to get dinner on the table faster. I assume this is why takeout is also so popular in NYC; from the photos it’s nearly impossible to see what’s actually homemade and what’s not, but there are a few simple meals that stick out: a sandwich, noodles straight from a pot, pizza.

2. Dinner time = screen time. Twelve of the diners were photographed in front of some sort of screen, with the most popular screen being a computer. And many of the diners on their computers were watching TV… which is a telling sign of how the TV landscape is changing as well as that we’ve become a nation of multitaskers, as Aikawa points out above. Those who ate in front of a screen were largely alone, although one photo depicted a get-together with friends to eat + watch HBO. I was actually surprised to see only one person using their phone (model, 20 years old), but with her age, the photo is a little mini-confirmation of the mobile-obsessed millennial generation.

3. Where are the dads? Two photos depicted mothers eating with their babies, but there was no dad. Does this speak to the changing dynamic of family structure (are they single moms, divorced, etc), or is dad simply at work? And if dad is at work, will the moms have a 2nd dinner when he gets home? Beyond the moms/babies, only six diners ate together- whether it was with their significant other or friends. Everyone else ate alone. Which also brings up questions of family units/scheduling– do these diners live alone, with roommates, or with family? Do they choose not to each dinner together, or are they eating alone because everyone has different work schedules?

4. The table is not dead. Even though a majority of the diners photographer ate in front of a screen, they were still seated at a traditional table. Couches and beds showed up on the list, but were far outnumbered by tables and desks. This part of the family dinner time image is at least still intact.

How do you eat dinner? I’m really curious now. And also a little embarrassed to admit that we usually eat dinner on our coffee table, in front of the TV… unless it’s Sunday night, when we always eat at our dining room table (which should be called living room/Manhattan one-bedroom apartment only non-bedroom room) with zero screens.

photos: Miho Aikawa

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