I have lived in Atlanta my entire life, and as a Chinese-American, my family has different traditions and customs than other American families. I have chosen my friend Stokes’s dining table because her household is very different from mine. We have been friends for five years, and I am constantly at her house, but we don’t usually eat dinner with her family. She has a single working mother who takes care of Stokes and her brother. It is difficult for her to be home much of the time due to her demanding job. I asked Stokes if I could join one of their family dinners to observe the way they eat together, and they were happy to have me.
For this study, I used the participant observation anthropological method from Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food. I chose this anthropological method to get an insider’s perspective on how her family eats together and how it differs from my family. By being an insider, it allows me to “draw wider conclusions about how the culture and society works.” During this study, I was able to help clear off the table to prepare for dinner and help clean up when we were finished.
Their dining table was in a room right next to the kitchen. Their house has an open concept, but the dining table was closed off from the rest of the house. The table itself was round and painted with kid handprints and other paintings from when Stokes and her brother were younger. There were chips out the sides of the tables from years of wear. This table had been with them since they moved from North Carolina, then to California, then to Tennessee, and finally to Atlanta. This table had been with them through it all. Through their childhood, through school, and through their parents’ divorce. This was the table where their family did their work but also ate their meals. Even though each family member has their own desk in their rooms, they choose to sit together when they are working.
Before dinner had started, the kitchen table was piled up with unopened mail and school work. Stokes and I cleared off the table as we waited for her mom to come back from work. When she finally returned, she had two large pizzas in her hand. Her brother quickly joined us just for a few minutes to grab some pizza and eat in his room. Stokes, her mom, and I sat around the table as we talked about our days.
Her family dynamic and kitchen table are very different from my family’s. Our kitchen table is always clean, and it is only used to eat our meals. My mom makes dinner each night for my family to eat together. It is difficult for us to see each other during the day, so we look forward to seeing each other during this time.
Throughout this experience, I learned that their table serves a very different purpose from my kitchen table. Both her and my tables are used for the family to come together, but while my family uses it for eating, their family uses it for their daily activities. Their table has sentimental value to them as it has been with them for most of their time together. The kitchen table symbolizes the love and support that this family has for each other and it holds memories from all their time together. It represents all their memories, whether they are good or bad, but it also shows the new memories they are making together. I am grateful for my opportunity to learn from their kitchen table and see the differences and similarities between her family table and mine.