By Kristen A. Hammer
It started at the dinner table in our home in Guatemala – the same dinner table that Dad (Dr. Steven Hammer) and some friends had made years earlier out of two sheets of plywood. At that dinner table, Dad began pulling bits of paper out of his shirt pocket. Those bits of paper held his notes about words or folk medicine practices he had learned from his patients that day. As he read his jottings to us, some made us curious and ask questions, some made us groan, and some made us laugh.
You see, while Guatemala’s national language is, of course, Spanish, twenty-some Mayan languages are still spoken there as well. During the nine years Dad spent in Guatemala, he served many patients who spoke Spanish as a second language and, thus, used some words differently or mixed with their Mayan tongue. Combine that fact with an average education level of second grade and you have a recipe for some pretty interesting health ideas! Throw in Guatemalans’ love for slang, and your conversations are bound to be as flavorful as a Christmas tamale.
I personally found those mealtime conversations intriguing. After all, I was the girl who had considered becoming a brain surgeon and a writer. Dad’s stories from the clinic melded my interest in science and my love for words and people together. Those mealtime conversations were the start of Understanding the Guatemalan Patient: A Glossary of Spanish Medical Terms and Folk Medicine. More importantly to me, they and other conversations with the many visitors who ate with us are among my favorite Guatemala memories.
In the 21st century, many families find it hard to gather around the dinner table together. However, the benefits – like healthier eating habits and lower incidence of drug and alcohol use in youth – make it worth the fight. The healthier eating habits associated with family meals may especially benefit Hispanic youth and other minorities who face a higher risk of diabetes. So, whether you are getting into your school-year routines in the US or heading toward school vacations like our friends in Guatemala, why not make the effort to gather around your table often with family and friends? Since September 15 started National Hispanic Heritage Month, you may even want to include some Hispanic food in your bill of fare. Whether it’s quesadillas, tacos, platanos fritos, chiles rellenos or mole poblano, enjoy the time together. Who knows? Someday you might even be saying, “It started at the dinner table…”
 American Diabetes Association, “Overall Numbers, Diabetes and Prediabetes” http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/ (accessed 21 September 2015).
There are many articles online about the value of shared meals. Here are a few that I read in preparing this post that you may find useful as well:
Amber J. Hammons, PhD, Barbara H. Flese PhD “Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?” http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/6/e1565.full
Sarah Klein, “8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner” http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20339151,00.html
Jeanie Lerche Davis, “Family Dinners Are Important: 10 reasons why, and 10 shortcuts to help get the family to the table.” http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/family-dinners-are-important