“Bowls Are the New Plates,” by Ellen Byron. The Wall Street Journal, 1/12/2015.
My wife and I, like many others our age, are burdened with cherished sets of dishes that no one wants. Now, the situation becomes even worse as people are eating more out of bowls instead of plates.
Consumers are increasingly forgoing plates as they cradle their food in bowls while perched at kitchen islands or lounging in front of the TV. That sure describes me. I would prefer something in-between, something flatter than a typical bowl, but still with a rim, a high rim, to keep the juices off the upholstery.
Tableware makers have already begun changing their inventory by offering more bowls. Food was once expensive and labor-intensive to prepare, and it deserved the expensive presentation rituals of china dishes, silverware, crystal, even special rooms with carved furniture. Now, food is cheap, and eating for many is only a necessary chore to be completed while doing something else. The fancy dining rooms and furniture are now only resting places for the day’s mail.
They say the shift to bowls began with the popularity of slow cookers, but I suspect that both were the result of a basic change in lifestyles. Adding to the change was the rising popularity of Asian food, where bowls blend the tastes together and work better with chopsticks. Bowls are also valued for their versatility: for serving, snacking, and meal preparation. “It’s like a great T-shirt,” says one fan. “It’s comfortable to wear and is your go-to piece.”
The only downside comes from restaurants. A Panera chief explained, “The value perception may be that there is not much food in there, but meanwhile, it’s a big cavity to fill.”
The expensive full place settings for 12, the symbol of prosperity for our generation, are increasingly resigned to museums, along with real silverware that no one wants to polish. My wife and I have our original china given as wedding gifts in the silver-rimmed pattern we registered 55 years ago in a trendy Philadelphia store just off of Rittenhouse Square. We also have my aunt’s gold-rimmed Lenox bone china set. Both have to be washed by hand. Who wants that? I doubt anyone will buy either set for more than $10, and then will throw everything away but the bowls. That will be too painful to watch, so we will probably keep them, and eventually a younger family member will quietly put them in the trash.
The situation is similar to my Japanese-American wife’s internment during WWII with her family. As entire ethnic California neighborhoods were evacuated at once, some of her neighbors destroyed their china sets rather than sell them for a fraction of their value. Many of those now-ancient women still express bitterness for that loss (and for the loss of family photographs). Their prized dishes were the symbol of their status in American society, and the loss of their dishes became the symbol of their fall.
An Austrian woman my age laboriously brought her highly decorated, hand-painted set of dishes with her when she moved here as a war bride of a WWII American soldier. Now, she wonders what will happen to it. Neither of her sons wants it.
Even I find the loss of our marriage dishes painful. They were the generous gifts of many friends and relatives now gone. Many thanks, all of you. But the dishes that remain are only symbols of your kindness. You were the important ones.
If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore),
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store),
If you have to dry the dishes,
And you drop one on the floor,
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore.
(Nobody dries dishes anymore, not even children.)