There was something about the 1960s and ’70s. Making life easy and devising all kinds of shortcuts marked these decades. Nothing epitomizes this like the TV dinner. As a child of this era, I clearly remember my mother in the kitchen chopping, dicing, stewing, and roasting to have dinner on the table at 5:00 p.m. when my father returned from work. The food was hot, fresh, and delicious. All activities stopped; we gathered around the table, said grace, and enjoyed.
“Quick and Easy” Doesn’t Mean “Good For You”
Then along came these amazing meal options. No more chopping, dicing, stewing, and roasting. No more pots and pans to clean. No more forcing family members to endure foods they did not like. Every family member could have the dinner he wanted as if he had ordered it off a restaurant menu. Just pull these little tinfoil trays from the freezer, pop them in the oven, and before you know it you will have dinner on the table, or (if you are really a modern family) on TV trays sitting in front of the television.
The pictures on the label looked just like food made by Mom. But when you carefully peeled back the covering, it was definitely not anything like Mom’s. Instead, it was a steaming mass of highly processed food chock-full of salt, fat, and preservatives, totally devoid of any taste that even slightly resembled a high-quality meal.
My mother rarely indulged us; but I always cheered when she announced that it was going to be a pick-your-own dinner kind of meal and the frozen rectangles came out of the freezer. Looking back, I cannot imagine how we could ever have preferred a TV dinner to our mother’s wholesome and delicious cooking. Perhaps it was all the salt and fat that made me crave these culinary innovations. Perhaps I wanted a break from doing dinner dishes. Perhaps I just wanted to be trendy. It felt so modern to eschew the kitchen drudgery and embrace the convenience of these easy alternatives.
In the ensuing decades we learned that “quick and easy” is not always a good thing. All those processed foods contributed to skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other ailments. The good news is, the pendulum is swinging back. Consumers are no longer willing to blindly accept convenience over quality. The culinary arts are making a comeback. There are many popular recipe web sites; many people share recipes and cooking tips on social media. People come out to the local farmers market to buy wholesome fresh food and invest the time to prepare it; because fresh food tastes better and is better for you.
TV Dinner Sexual Morality
At the same time our culture was trading in home-cooked goodness for low quality quick and easy substitutes, human relationships were undergoing a similar transformation. The ritual of courtship, followed by marriage, followed by sex, followed by children, was challenged by a new paradigm. First came the ready availability of oral contraceptives that severed the bond between sex and procreation. Sex without the risk of pregnancy meant that what had been reserved as a privilege of the marital relationship could be exploited for physical pleasure with no need for emotional commitments.
Free love, requiring no commitments and motivated by self-centered desires, became a cheap substitute for the mutual self-giving of one man and one woman joined in Holy Matrimony. The mantra of the day was “If it feels good, do it!” Cohabitation and casual sex moved to the mainstream, and were no longer causes for shame. No-fault divorce shunned the life-long commitment of traditional marriage and turned many modern marriages into nothing more than civil unions that could be formed and dissolved at will. Just like TV dinners, relationships became quick and easy.
Just as the prioritization of ease over quality of food lead to health woes, the quick and easy relationship scenarios that were spawned during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s directly contributed to today’s societal ills. Approximately 40% of children today are born out of wedlock. Of these children, 80% live in a home headed by a single mother. These families headed by a single mother are five times as likely to live in poverty as a family with two parents. Children from single parent families have more trouble in school and are less likely to complete a college degree. Daughters who do not have a father in their home are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. Boys who grow up without a father in their home are more likely to end up in jail.
Bad Fruits of Unhealthy Relationships
Ignoring the vocational nature of parenthood leads some adults to see children as optional accessories to adult relationships. They treat children as commodities, manufactured by the fertility industry for the pleasure of adults, using immoral artificial reproductive technologies.
This utilitarian view of children is the premise on which the scourge of abortion is based. An unborn child who does not meet the desires of a parent for any reason at all can be easily eliminated. Once we deem unborn children to be disposable, it is easier to dehumanize other vulnerable populations like the disabled, the sick, and the elderly. This accounts for the rising support for assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Unfortunately, unlike the return of healthier cooking, we are not seeing a swing of the pendulum back to healthier models of human sexuality and human relationships. In fact, the pace at which traditional marriage and the family are eroding is increasing.
As more adults reject parenthood altogether, Western nations face a grave “demographic winter”. The unique complementarity of one man and one woman that is sanctified by Holy Matrimony is completely rejected with the acceptance of same sex marriage. The biological reality of a fixed sexual identity is ignored by current gender ideologies. The out of wedlock birthrate just keeps climbing.
Living Our Values with Joy
However, the answer is not to stand on our soapboxes and prophesy gloom and doom. Once you eat a fresh in-season strawberry fresh from the farm, it is hard to go back to the grocery store variety that was picked when not quite ripe and shipped hundreds of miles so that we can have strawberries in December.
Our Catholic families need to be like that fresh strawberry. We need to live out our Catholic family values with such joy that people stop and say, “I want what they have.” Our example of living according to God’s natural law should make preferring the emotionally and spiritually damaging relationships that are the current cultural norm as irrational as choosing bland TV dinners over Mom’s home cooking.