Americans rediscover the joy of picnicking
Published 5:26 am Saturday, June 3, 2023
It’s a positive trend that I hope continues: the resurgence of summer picnics.
According to Mental Floss, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a picnic boom beginning in 2020 that is showing no signs of letting up.
In 2020, with restaurants shuttered and experts telling us the bug didn’t spread so easily in outdoor air, many people, in particular younger people, began picnicking.
I was lucky to grow up only a few miles from a county park that offers 3,000 acres of rolling green hills, walking and biking trails and 63 picnic groves — groves packed with picnickers every summer weekend.
There were lots of reasons to picnic then. Family reunions, church gatherings or neighbors getting together. Schools, companies, unions and other organizations often staged annual picnic events.
The park was so popular that people routinely waited in line for hours one year prior to their event to secure their favorite grove.
On weekends the park was jammed and jumping:
Kids running around, footballs, Frisbees and water balloons flying through the air. While the kids played, the adults talked and laughed and sipped ice-cold beer.
We ate hot dogs and juicy hamburgers and my mom’s sweet potato salad — I can still taste these incredible picnic delicacies and crave them still.
The picnics were tremendous social events that connected people to each other in a million different ways. We laughed and talked all day long and when dusk arrived, nobody was ready to go home.
In a modern world that has separated and isolated us, we need to experience picnic connectedness now more than ever before.
Robert Putnam, author of the acclaimed 1995 book “Bowling Alone,” identified several trends that have been causing a breakdown in social-connectedness over many years.
The rise of the dual-income family, for example, resulted in both parents being exhausted after long days of work, making them less prone to join and support civic groups.
Television and the Internet are also breaking down our connectedness. Putnam said that “time-budget studies in the 1960s showed that the growth in time spent watching television dwarfed all other changes in the way Americans passed their days and nights.”
Social media has made this challenge considerably worse with many people, in particular younger people, spending hours online or chatting with their “friends” while in a room in their home alone.
Before there were 300 TV channels — before smartphones turned us into zombies and air conditioning caused us to shut our windows and doors — people sat out on their porches at night, sipping lemonade and talking with each other.
I enjoyed countless summer nights enjoying the company of my neighborhood friends that way.
Now we spend far too many hours sitting in our cooled homes isolated from our fellow human beings — which is why we are in desperate need of more summer picnics.
But there is hope for us.
Smithsonian reports that interest in picnics has exploded on social media. On Pinterest alone, searches for picnic date ideas have grown by 385 percent since last year.
I just Googled “summer picnic” and was delighted to see picnic activities taking place all over the nation — and lots of ideas to make your picnic fun and your picnic food delicious.
Hey, COVID-19, you caused us a lot of grief, but I thank you for the summer picnic resurgence. It couldn’t have come at a better time!
Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.