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A SURPRISE OF NOTE IN NEWS' SURVEY

When I first saw the results of The News' recent food survey I was surprised. (And I'm willing to bet a lot of you were also.)

It wasn't the fact that chicken is the most popular dinner cooked at home (24.3 percent of our respondents favor it). Nor is it the fact that the most popular type of takeout or order in food is pizza.

I was certainly not flabbergasted to learn that the favorite restaurant food of Western New Yorkers is fish or seafood. I know a lot of folks don't like to cook fish at home because they think it smells. And it's also not a surprise that the runner-up is steak - there's been a revival of interest in steak houses in recent years. And, despite persistent talk of mad cow disease, that will probably continue.

What really surprised me, even as a food editor, is the number of Western New Yorkers who cook dinners at home and who eat together as a family (64 percent of our respondents said they cook dinner five times a week or more; more than 41 percent said they all ate together).

If I were to believe some of the publicity that comes across this desk and airs on some television commercials, I'd have to think those numbers would be heading south, way south.

And that they'd be getting closer to zero.

But it turned out that this widely held impression was off. And it's not just a Western New York thing, either. Surveys conducted by the Chicago Tribune yielded very similar results. And so did some really big surveys, conducted by the National Pork Producers Council and Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

"I think sitting down with the family is important even if it's only 40 minutes out of the day. It gives us a chance to connect," one Buffalo father told me.

"If I ever do anything else worthy in my life, I will go to my grave knowing I fed my family well and was appreciated by all," wrote a reader in Lancaster who must have been a great role model. All four of her grown sons are fantastic cooks, she said, and her daughter does well with a cookbook.

So here's what I think: that we're being brainwashed just a little bit. We've bought into the fact that so few people are cooking and eating together these days that they'll soon be putting microwaves in cars. Or designing houses without kitchens.

And what's behind this theory? Restaurant industry statistics, perhaps, urging us to get on the fast-food bandwagon. Maybe even the food industry itself trying to sell its new single serving convenience products.

Not that any of this is totally evil. I'm just saying that we should keep an open mind.

Because the death of the family dinner has been greatly exaggerated.

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