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On the Go

Yesterday I read Maggie Jackson’s book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. In the book she shows how life today offers many more distractions than at any other time in history and how this may lead us into a new dark age. While I’m not quite sure I agree with all the talk of a dark age, certainly she makes many valid points along the way.

One way this societal distraction manifests itself is in the way we eat. Meals are no longer times to be spent with family savoring good food. Rather, they are times to quickly and effeciently refuel. In 2006, she points out, 1,347 products with “go” on the label debuted on the global market, a nearly 50 percent increase from the previous year. We can get our coffee on the go, our cereal on the go and everything else that we find we need.

She writes about Dr. Rapaille, a French-born consultant with a doctorate in medical anthropology who says, “Americans say ‘I’m full’ at the end of a meal because … [their] mission has been to fill up their tanks; when they complete it, they announced that they’ve finished the task.”

Here are a couple of other noteworthy and ponder-worthy snippets of her screed against eating on the go:

We need handheld, bite-size, and dripless food because we are eating on the run-all day long. Nearly half of Americans say they eat most meals away from home or on the go. Forty percent of our food budgets are spent eating out, compared with a quarter in 1990.3 Twenty-five percent of restaurant meals are ordered from the car, up from 15 percent in 1988.

Now we’ve left the fork behind, the casualty of a time-pressed age. But while we again eat with our hands, we’re rarely touching our sustenance. Wrappers, packaging, cans, straws, and the pace of life keep us from directly connecting with food until it’s halfway down our gullets. And the food itself, of course, is many steps removed from the drippy, messy, and sometimes wholly recognizable fare that graced many a groaning table of the past. In the name of civilization, we’ve moved toward clean, processed, and unobtrusive foods. A quiet fill-up, that’s what people tell [researchers] that they want. Nothing smelly, crackling, or noisy. We want food that takes a backseat to life-and we want it solo.