My name is Thomas Nguyen, and I believe that the kitchen table is an essential part of eating food. Sure, it can be taken literally as a piece of furniture on which one eats food, but there is also another special meaning to it. Not only is it a place for eating, but it is also a place for communication and bonding over food in the family. When it comes to large families, it can be especially difficult to maintain that communication, especially when everyone is preoccupied with his or her own lives. However, the kitchen table can ultimately hold the family together as a unit. Because of this importance, I wanted to investigate how a kitchen table does that and how it ultimately becomes a key aspect of a family’s life.
I asked my friend Jennifer to help and used the anthropological methods of interview and participation-observation in accordance to Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther. Jennifer comes from a huge family of six children and eight people in the household total, so I was fascinated by how her small kitchen table could fit so many people and be the center of family activity. With these two methods, not only do I have an outsider perspective on her table, but I also had a personal insight as to how her kitchen table functions for her family. Combining these two methods would result in a full understanding of her kitchen table and its importance as the center of meals and family.
For a large family, Jennifer’s kitchen table is surprisingly small. It is a simple rectangular table near the stove with just enough room for entire family to sit. When Jennifer’s kitchen table is not in use for big meals like breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it is used as a convenient place for snacks and fresh fruits to be eaten at any time due to the various schedules of the members of her large family. However, when it is time for a big meal or celebration, the table is used as a cooking space by her mom to lay out fresh ingredients. The kitchen table is first covered in newspaper to keep it clean. The table is filled to the brim with fresh vegetables and cuts of meat as cooking for a large family requires a large amount of space. Jennifer and her siblings would come to the table to help their mom with cooking, and her youngest brother would set up the bowls and eating utensils for everyone in the family. Once the cooking is finished, everyone in the family gathers at the table to place the dishes and sit down. The dishes are placed so that they are in the center of the table for everyone to share while everyone has his or her own bowl of rice. This is the time when Jennifer’s family truly bonds. Despite everyone’s hectic schedule, they have all gathered at the kitchen table to share a delicious meal and discussed about their lives. As a participant and observer, I also personally noticed the general rapport of Jennifer’s family. During the meal, family members would share an issue that comes to mind, such as a problem at work or a future plan, and another member would immediately offer a solution and discuss the potential outcomes. The family would also joke around and share laughs over the humorous parts of their days while enjoying a delicious meal, furthering their good mood. After everyone has finished eating, the family members clean up the kitchen table and rearrange the fruits and snacks back in place for the next day, and everyone goes their separate ways to resume their busy lives.
To conclude, I have realized the importance of Jennifer’s kitchen table to her family. It is a central location and a guaranteed meeting place for everyone in the family despite their schedules. It is also a place to share a good meal when hungry, and the sharing aspect is further emphasized by the central dish that is accessible to everyone. The kitchen table is an area to catch up on life and a space for discussion and problem-solving. Most importantly, however, Jennifer’s kitchen table is a sacred space for family bonding and enjoying the wonders of life, including the rich stories of people, the delicious flavors of a meal, and the warmth of raw emotions.
Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2013.