My Kitchen Table (Ryan Xu)

I am Ryan Xu, a student at Emory majoring in math and computer science, and I am conducting this study to gain a deeper understanding of the role that the kitchen table plays in my family. The important aspect of my father’s kitchen table that interests me is that it has been the dining table for my family for almost ten years, and an investigation of the table as a cultural artifact would help me gain a deeper understanding of my family as well as my culture. The anthropological method that I have employed to study this kitchen table is the participant-observation method. According to Crowther in Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, “participant observation involves trying to gain an insider’s or emic perspective on a culture and simultaneously apply an outsider’s or etic perspective to draw wider conclusions about how the culture and society works.” (Crowther, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food) I will be observing, investigating, and drawing conclusions from both an etic perspective, and an emic perspective.

Even though I have ate meals regularly on the kitchen table in our dining room for almost ten years, I rarely paid any attention to the table itself or the changes in the items placed on the table before conducting this study. For this study, I have made careful observations on the physical details of our kitchen table, as well as the specific items that were placed on the table before, during and after meals. The table itself is rectangular shaped, and it is about two meters long, one meter wide and one meter high. It is large enough for a maximum of six people to dine on simultaneously. The table might seem to be too small during parties or large family gatherings, as it could not serve more than six people at once. However, since we rarely have parties or large family gatherings in our apartment, and most of the time, it was only my father, my mother and me who were dining on the table, it is sufficiently large enough to serve our purposes. The table has four white legs, with golden patterns and decorations on each of them. The legs are possibly made from wood, with white and golden paint painted on each of them. The table top is made out of a large rectangular piece of marble. The marble has a light yellow color, and it would shine gorgeously under the overhead lights. A large vase is placed in the middle of the table, with about a dozen colorful artificial flowers inside the vase. Usually, nothing other than the vase would be placed on the table if nobody is cooking or dining in the dining room.

When my father is cooking for us, a lot of dining supplies would be taken from the kitchen and placed on the table, such as empty plates, bowls, chopsticks and spoons. My father would take out the dishes he had finished cooking from the kitchen to the table, while my mother and I would be sitting at the table and commenting on his dishes. In the Chinese culture, everyone at the dinner table would have their own bowl of rice, and share all the dishes in the middle of the table. My mother and I would wait for my father to sit down at the table after he had finished cooking all the dishes, and start dining together. On average, my father would cook four or five dishes every meal, with two or three meat dishes, one vegetable dish and one bowl of soup. We would often have the soup before or after the meal. After we have finished dining, my father would take all the bowls and plates from the table back into the kitchen, and there would be nothing left on the table except the flower vase.

From an outsider perspective, the kitchen table demonstrated a mixture of western and eastern culture. The table has a European styled design, with the rectangular shape and decorations, which is very different from the traditional round shaped Chinese style dining tables. However, the way meals are consumed on the kitchen table depicted the Chinese style of dining. Rather than everyone having their own dish, all the dishes are shared by everyone sitting at the table. From an insider perspective, as a family member who dines at the kitchen table regularly with my father and mother, the kitchen table is also one of the most important places for communications and conversations between the family members. Usually, dinnertime is the only time of the day when my parents and I can be relaxed and have casual conversations about the interesting events which happened to us during the day. Communication between family members is crucial to the harmony of a family. Some of the conversations that happened at the dining table even led to major decisions and future plans. Therefore, the kitchen table plays a crucial role in bringing the family members together, and maintaining the close relationships in my family.


Works Cited:

Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Zhou, Cathy. Chinese Etiquette and Culture, p. 26. 2005.

Madison Rousseau’s Blog #2: Serving Food, Conversation, and Grace


Serving Food, Conversation, and Grace

          My name is Madison Rousseau and I am an undergraduate student at Emory University. I am conducting this anthropological study because food is an integral part of people’s lives and the act of eating food takes place primarily at a table, though this may differ in various cultures. The simplest objects can render significance for people. I seek to insert myself as the proverbial fly on the wall of a family’s dining room so as to observe what can be associated with a kitchen table. I hope to find what cultural associations underlie this table within a particular family. A kitchen table can be a microcosm of a family’s life, not speaking at all and yet telling the routines and interactions of a family’s daily life. It is a cultural artifact much like food itself. I will observe the culture created by daily habits surrounding this artifact in order to find what activities take place around this table and what parts of a family’s culture can be gathered through dissecting the characteristics of the table. The particular table I chose to focus on has begun to creak with age, which makes it an interesting focal point for the purposes of this study. With time comes memories and activities that happen at the table. For instance, a table someone has owned for a few months may have no more significance to the person other than its price tag, but a table that has been owned for years may bring about more memories for the owner and thus possesses a greater significance. To put it simply, it is the age and the memories that make this kitchen table of particular interest to me. The table belongs to an elderly couple who live in Georgia and have been close friends to my family since I was young. Their children have long left this house to raise families of their own, so the purpose of this table has evolved from the central focus of serving meals to a young family while serving up advice, listening to the day’s activities, and acting as a place for doing homework and school projects to a spot for drinking the morning coffee, reading the paper, sorting bills, putting together jigsaw puzzles, writing short stories, as well as having meals. I could not help but smile when Mr. Warren reached out to shake my hand at the door, thinking humorously of us engaging in what Lin Yutang would call a curious western custom (Yutang 257). Mrs. Warren skipped the handshake and went right for the hug, characteristic of Southerners.


                                        In image above: kitchen table covered in bills and notebooks

          The anthropological methods I have employed to study this kitchen table consist of participant observation and interviewing as a complement. This method of participant observation was chosen because engaging in activities surrounding the table allows me to record both the emic and the etic, which is the inside and outside perspective as I learned in my Introduction to Sociology class. The questions I asked in the interview are open-ended so as to encourage the couple to give a greater influx of information or data. If only asked what happens at the table during a meal, I fear that only a partial picture of the cultural significance that this table holds would be revealed. However, by expanding the scope of the questions to what happens before, during, and after meals at the table, a better overall picture of the culture surrounding the table and a greater understanding as to why certain characteristics exist with the table emerges. Expanding the search from just one time of the day to the majority of the day extended the breadth of time in which elements of one’s culture arise more frequently.

          The table not only displayed the food, but also highlighted elements of Mr. and Mrs. Warren’s culture including Southern hospitality, reflection, and Christianity. I partook in a newspaper crossword puzzle at the table early in the morning with Mrs. Warren, witnessed the fine art of paying bills by Mr. Warren, and helped put a jigsaw puzzle to rest. I enjoyed some pork chops, warm biscuits with white gravy, and fresh cut cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden at the table during lunch and then witnessed a book of short stories unfolding before me as the elderly man spoke of some of his memories he had written down. Every now and then while we were conversing, he would have a new memory come to mind and quickly scribble it on another page of his notebook before he would forget. As dinner time came, Mrs. Warren asked me if I could please help set the table, and I searched through her drawer of utensils to find the right-sized forks and serving pieces. Mrs. Warren had prepared a delicious roast stuffed with garlic, gravy made thick from the fat of the roast and flour, many warm bread rolls buttered in which to sop up the gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, and black-eyed peas. We ate family-style, engaging in the practice of shared dining as Liu Junru described being distinctively characteristic of modern-day Chinese in the section of “Food and Drink” in Chinese Food (Junru 35). Upon reflection, it seems that many elderly people like to engage in this practice of shared dining. Before engaging in this practice though, we participated in another practice—praying. My observations reaffirmed the view I had going into the couple’s house—just as Lin Yutang recognized that a broader view of food should be utilized, I recognized that there should be a broader view of a kitchen table, one that captures the cultural significance of a table (Yutang 248). It encourages socialization. As previously discussed in class, the seats of the table can represent the hierarchy of the family members sitting in them. Despite the table having plenty of chairs around it, the woman sat at one head of the oval table and the man sat at the other end, typical of where parents would sit at a table in some families. I was sitting at the center of the table, possibly representing how the two thought of me as a granddaughter or showing that I was their guest of honor. 

          Concluding this study has given me the ability to reflect on how central a piece of furniture can be in one’s everyday life. I came to the conclusion that a kitchen table is more than just a basic piece of furniture serving a single purpose—acting as a serving place for food. It is also where games are played, stories are told, and sharing happens. The kitchen table is similar to the Italian food market, Porta Polazzo, in that it also acts as “a place to gather and spend time with compatriots” (Black 101). Tables function as bonding agents among people. According to Mrs. Warren and Mr. Warren, the kitchen table is where meals are eaten, conversations are had, and grace or prayer is made. Through observation, I saw that it served even more functions than these, functions of which I elaborate on when noting my observations in the prior paragraph. 


Works Cited


Black, Rachel E. 2012. Porta Palazzo: The Anthropology of an Italian Market.               Philadelphia, PN: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Junru, Liu. 2011. Chinese Food. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Yutang, Lin. 1938. The Importance of Living. Reynal & Hitchcock.









Jessica Lee – Journal #2

One of my mother’s closest friend lived in the Yanbian region for a long time. In fact, she is Chaoxianzu or Chosunjok, an official name for Korean immigrants in China. She was born and raised in Yanbian, located in Northeast China. Her parents immigrated to China when she was only 11, and it hasn’t been long since she got married to a Korean man and returned to Korea. My mother met her at an English academy, and they built their friendships by going to restaurants together as they both enjoy eating good food.

One thing I always find interesting about her is the way she talks, or acts is very much like a Korean person as much as it is like Chinese person. Both Chinese and Korean culture is innate in her. I chose to conduct a study about a meal she once prepared for our family as it showed the blend of two different cultures. One thing that interested me the most about the dinner meal she prepared was the genuine mixture of Chinese and Korean food.

On the dinner table that she prepared for us, there was white steam rice with many other dishes to eat with rice. Along with rice, there also was chaomian (Chinese fried noodle), Bulgogi (traditional Korean dish) and Fanqie chao dan (Chinese style stir-fried egg and tomato, 番茄炒蛋). There were also both kimchi and zha cai as small dishes. One dish I thought was most unique was the mala-ramen. The dinner table together was a mixture of Korean food and Chinese food. Among them, the Mala-ramen was even fusion food. She mixed the Chinese Mala sauce with Korean ramen noodles. The servings of both kimchi and zha cai was also very interesting. Korean Kimchi and Chinese Zhacai are very much like Italian pickle. They serve to relieve the greasy and heavy taste from the main dish. Serving of both the Korean and Chinese pickles was very interesting. Apart from those, I could see a very traditional Korean food – Bulgogi next to typical Chinese food – thee Fanqie chaodan. The serving of both the rice and noodle was also very new to me. In a typical Korean dining table, we would normally see either the rice with other dishes or noodles. They are usually not served together. She said she prepared all the food because there were many of us eating, but the combinations of the food she prepared were very unique and interesting.

While doing the study, I believe I used the comparison method the most. Comparisons is made “between different members of society, such as by age, and gender, and between different cultural or ethnic and associations to be highlighted”. (“Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food” by Gillian Crowther in University of Toronto Press) I compared Korean and Chinese culture and their food. There was a presence of both Korean and Chinese styled food in her meal, so I believe it would be most effective to compare it to a typical Korean meal and to a typical Chinese meal. One other research method I used was participant-observation. It incorporates the insider’s perspective with outsider’s perspective to draw a wider conclusion. Although I wasn’t able to interview her for a long time, I was able to get an insider’s perspective by listening to her speak about her food at the dinner table. She mentioned that she feels herself as a Chinese person as she lived in China for a long time. Yet, because of her connections with her family and relatives back in Korea, she believes Korean culture innates in her. As an outsider, I felt like her meal was a genuine combination of Chinese and Korean culture too. Although I know more about the Korean culture than the Chinese culture, many of the food she prepared, made we think of Chinese food I saw in Beijing last summer.

It was interesting to see the presence of two different cultures in one dining meal. She was born in Korea and her parents were from Korea. Yet, she lived in China for most of her life and thus created her new style. In fact, many Chaoxianzus, Korean immigrants in China show a blend of Korean and Chinese culture and created their own and unique styles. I believe my mother’s friend’s dining meal showed the Chaozianzu’s culture and their unique style of food.



Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: an Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2018.

My Mother’s Table

I was born and raised in Manhattan, New York City. I like to introduce that because despite this, I was raised under great influence of West African traditions. I am well aware and knowledgeable of my native tongue and traditions such as food and holidays. I am conducting a study to investigate the use of the kitchen table. I am viewing the kitchen table as a cultural artifact because from that point, I can take note of everything one does using the kitchen table. Every use of the kitchen table has a reason behind it that may be symbolic or of greater significance. This is especially important to me because I didn’t notice certain things about the kitchen table in my own home or why certain things were the way they are simply because I have become so accustomed to seeing it that way. I interviewed my mom because she cooks native food every day and she has a specific way about making the meal and placing it on the table. My mom is from the Ivory Coast, a country in West Africa, and therefore my mom’s kitchen table traditions are those passed on from her mother, who learned it from her mother and so on. My mom and the rest of my family are all Muslim, as well, so a mixture of culture and religion all plays into the way she uses her kitchen table. Studying and learning about why my mom uses the kitchen table the way she does before studying someone else’s kitchen table is important to me because it teaches me about my culture and tradition and the reason my mom values her practices in the kitchen so much that she does it the same exact way her mom did it. 

The anthropological methods that I chose were both participant observation and interview. I let my mom know that I would be watching and taking note of how she uses her kitchen table and explained the study to her. She was eager to be a part of my assignment, so she decided to exaggerate everything she normally does to ensure I don’t miss anything. Participant observation is really important in a study like this because I have to study the actions of my mom meticulously and record them. I also decided to interview her, only for about two questions, as she was preparing dinner when I wanted to know why she did certain things such as what to set on the table and how to start each meal. It was 5pm on Saturday when I conducted this study. I started off by observing the table and realizing that my mom always places a box of dates in the center of the table before starting food preparation. Dates are sweet fruits that come from date palm trees. I always knew there were sometimes dates on the table but I never realized that my mom places it before she starts cooking and removes it before she puts food on the table.

Q: Why do you place dates on the table before cooking? Why dates?

A: Dates are really important in the Islam world. They are extremely beneficial to one’s health and Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said that they came from Paradise. He said a home without dates is a house in hunger. It’s important for Muslims to follow what Muhammed (SAW) did in order to live the right way.

This was really interesting to me because it never occured to me that the reason my mom put dates on the table was a religious reason. I became very curious about dates and did some of my own research on it at the moment and found numerous health benefits and i’m glad to share this with people who don’t know this. 

My mom then started her cooking. Today she was making okra stew over rice. She cut up the meat and the spices and threw everything in the big pot she set over the hot stove. I noticed that before my mom cut anything or even when she opened the pot up to stir the food, she would always say “Bismillah.” The word “Bisimillah” is Arabic for “In the name of God.” I say this before starting an exam or before I start eating, so I was very comfortable with hearing my mom say it before she started cooking. Saying “Bisimillah” is blessing whatever you’re bound to start. My mom is blessing our food and making it the right way, Islamically, just by saying “Bisimillah” before making anything. After making the food my mom puts it in very large plates because that’s respect in West African culture. Putting food in very large bowls or plates, even if it can fit in smaller ones, shows that you have compassion and are willing to share with the community. This I know because I grew up eating in very large plates all the time even when eating by myself. After making the food, my mom put the food on the table. She removed the dates first then placed the food one by one using her right hand only. She liked to transfer very hot things into things that require you to only use one handle just so she can transfer it and sit it on the dinner table with her right hand.

Q: Why is it so important for you to use your right hand to take things?

A: The right hand is respected. In West African Culture doing anything with your left hand when it comes to taking is very disrespectful and may cause you to be shunned by elders. It’s important for me to show you guys how to take things because in Africa if you take something from someone with your left hand, they would slap your hand.

I knew to always use my right hand but I never asked since I was just that kid that did what she was told. It’s really interesting to know the reason my mom does certain things because she grew up doing it and got so used to it. These cultural norms from West Africa are so embedded into my mom’s character that she naturally does it and made sure we grew up doing so as well. The kitchen is a very respected place, so doing things with blessings from God and respect makes complete sense to me. The kitchen table is very large in our home because we have to set very large plates down. A larger plate is set in the center where everyone would eat with their hands. We would transfer food from the smaller plates to put it in the extremely large plate for everyone to dig in. Eating with our hands is very traditional and something very normal to me. It’s so normal to me that using eating utensils when i’m not home can get annoying to me. After eating, my siblings and I clean up the table and take everything away. In less than 15 minutes the dining table is empty again and a box of dates are placed there for desert. 

My mother’s kitchen table is based off of her religion and cultural norms growing up in West Africa. In everything that she does I can either tie it back to Islam or the Ivory Coast.


Keyi Chen Journal #2– Changes of a kitchen table

For the last several decades, economies of many developing countries have been continuously booming. China, as a representative example, has experienced lots of changes due to the increasing GDP for so many years; as a result of which, people’s daily life has also changed a lot. As an economics student, I conducted a study about the kitchen table in order to see how economic changes have altered people’s life and reflect some cultural changes.


To begin with, one of my grandmother’s old friends, Mrs. Lu, agreed to let me observe her family’s kitchen table and ask her about her kitchen table in past when she was living in the countryside. One thing that particularly interested me was that Mrs. Lu has experienced the economic changes as well as the movement from the countryside to the city; therefore, the changes of her kitchen table would reflect not only the changes of daily life but also some cultural differences between rural areas and urban areas. To conduct this study, I chose ethnographic fieldwork and interview as my methods(Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, Gillian Crowther). Using ethnographic fieldwork could enable me to observe Mrs. Lu’s kitchen table directly, and the interview could allow me to learn about her kitchen table and experience several decades ago. The combination of these two methods would ensure that I could study the changes of Mrs. Lu’s kitchen table.


When I arrived at Mrs. Lu’s home, her family were sitting around the table and preparing wonton together. While Mrs. Lu was making chicken soup with a pressure cooker for the soup base, her husband was mincing pork, cabbages, and mushrooms for wonton’s fillings. At the same time, her son, daughter-in-law, and her litter granddaughter were making wonton, chatting with smiles on their faces. Every member seemed excited and happy because of the joyful family time at weekends. During the time of waiting for the soup, I interviewed Mrs. Lu about her past kitchen table. “There was not a literal kitchen table when I was young. The kitchen space was too narrow and all we had were a simple hearth made of bricks, soil, and a big iron pan with a wooden lid, so we just used the hearth as a kitchen table, covering the pan with the flat lid. When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, my parents began not to take care of our family’s meals in order to earn more money to support the family; therefore, I had to cook meals for my three younger brothers and myself. I seldom enjoyed family time like this moment but cooked meals and did housework for most of the time,” said Mrs. Lu. Then I asked her why they were making wonton, and she answered, “making wonton was one of the few chances by which I could feel the happiness of the family reunion, so I want younger members of my family to enjoy the process that everyone involves to make a dish. Also, wonton is an indispensable dish when we have a family party; thus, I want them to learn how to make it. Of course, in the past, we didn’t use pork as one of the ingredients, and all we eat were just some random green vegetables.” As soon as the dish was finally finished, the older couple let their young granddaughter taste it first. “In the past, no one could start eating until ‘the head of the family’ started, right?” Mrs. Lu said with a smile, “but the era has changed, and we have already abandoned those feudal cultures.” She also invited me to eat wonton together with them because she always believes the old saying – “one who comes to my home is always my guest”.


The kitchen table of Mrs. Lu makes me consider it as a symbol that represents the economic and cultural changes of Chinese people’s lives in the last several decades. Since people always prepare and eat food by tables, they are able to clearly deliver messages about people’s dietary behaviors and habits, which reflect their financial situation and culture. By comparing what Mrs. Lu said about her past kitchen table and what I observed by her recent kitchen table, it’s obvious to see the change of economic situation in her family. In the past, the tools and kitchen environment were so simple and crude; by contrast, she can use more developed tools to make things more delectable and have more space for her whole family to gather together. Moreover, because of economic development, people’s understandings about family culture have been altered as well. In the past, especially in rural places, the father in a family was usually the one who dedicated the most to earn money and support the family; therefore, the rest members showed their respects to the father by honoring him as the head of the family and always let him start a meal first. But due to economic changes, the population have gradually moved from the countryside to cities, and their economic activities have changed from agriculture to other activities in the second and third industry. In other words, simple manual labor has contributed less to a family’s earnings, and more members can devote to the family more equally; as a result of which, the focus has been gradually transferred to young children. Mrs. Lu’s family just shows these changes in both aspects and reflects the influence of economic changes to cultural changes. Nevertheless, there are still some traditions being inherited. For example, just as Mrs. Lu invited me to their family lunch, the hospitability of rural people has never changed wherever they are. Furthermore, the reunion of a family is always an essential part of Chinese culture. No matter how the era and people’s thoughts have changed, people still consider it indispensable to their families. Also, dishes like wonton, dumplings, spring rolls, etc. are the carriers of families’ good wishes all the time.

Bernard Dzata: The Tablescape

I am a social anthropologist seeking to gain insight into the cultural relevance and significance of the kitchen table in daily life. Observing the kitchen table and the family, I aim to obtain perspective on how the kitchen table is utilized prior to, during, and after a meal. I hope to acquire knowledge that contributes to the greater body of work of social anthropology and that highlights the connections between the kitchen table, food and the familial community.

For this research, I chose participant-observation as the anthropological method to study the kitchen table and its surrounding environment. Participant-observation enables the social anthropologist to capture real-time perspective of the culture one seeks to observe. Essentially, the research will reflect the social anthropologist’s understandings and the perspective gained will contribute to greater body of work of social anthropology (Crowther, 2013).

The kitchen table I have chosen to study lives between the kitchen and the living room of a family home. The table is rectangular in shape with a faux-granite surface and has four identical chairs. The table’s legs and base are wooden with the chairs sharing the same materials. The table seems rather unassuming with no additional decorations adorning the surface. The table is without a centerpiece, candles, or other ornamentation. However, atop the table are several items belonging to different members of the family.

Prior to the meal being eaten on the table, the table serves as a hub of the family and general gathering place for the family community. The table holds a collection of documents and to-do’s, representing the family’s daily lives and aspirations. School work, letters of advertisement, bills, greeting cards, and wedding announcements fill the table, forming a collage of the family’s connections to their community.

During the meal, the table is a platform for food presentation and distribution. The table that once held a collection of documentation of the family’s schedule, work and social obligations transforms to produce a spotlight to showcase the meal. At this time, most items are cleared from the table completely, stacked into piles and placed in the living room or corners of the kitchen itself. Other items appear on the kitchen table, making an appearance to accompany the meal. A salt grinder, a pepper grinder, and various sauces make their way onto the kitchen table. Other additions include cutlery and various beverages. The kitchen table has become a stage for “the meal” and its accompanying troupe. The meal and its edible components are coupled with emotion and other basic elements of the human existence. Following the meal onto the kitchen table are laughter, discussion, nourishment and satisfaction. It appears the kitchen table is the environment that has produces this shared cultural event with food at the center, evoking this shared experience.

After the meal, the table continues as a connector for the family, promoting discourse and relationship building. Accounts of the day are shared by members of the family, plans are made, and aspirations announced. However, as plates are removed from the kitchen table, the event of the meal comes to an end. Family members begin to leave the kitchen table, venturing to their desired location in the home. Items that had a brief appearance with the meal are no longer visible, and the collage of the family returns.

The kitchen table serves several roles for the family. Prior to the meal, the kitchen table serves as a reservoir for the family’s tasks, plans and social connections. During the meal, the kitchen table serves as a conductor, as metal to electric current: the kitchen table brings the meal to life, creating culture. The kitchen table also produces community for the family and an exchange for ideas and experiences. The kitchen table serves as a foundational element for food sharing and relationship building with the event of the meal at the center.


Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Dominic Lal: The Migrating Kitchen Table

My name is Dominic Lal and I am currently a sophomore at Emory University studying Psychology with a minor in predictive health. I am living in Cincinnati for the summer because I managed to get a sweet internship working for Children’s Cincinnati, so I am living with 3 other roommates who have completely different stories and aspirations. My background is quite unique as I am half African American and half Indian (Gujarati), which has directly impacted my relationship to food. Specifically I have a preference towards spicier foods with burst of flavor combinations (Takis) rather than one type of flavor that is stronger (Lays Original Potato Chips) as a result of the numerous Indian dishes that revolve around having countless succulent ingredients working in harmony. I have always been drawn to learning more about people and what makes them tick, hence the psychology major, so this class and its focus on social anthropology sparked my interest. In Gillian Crowther’s book Eating Culture she describes social anthropology as the study of the everyday lives of ordinary people, anywhere, and food is a constant so which led me to explore the process of how college students cook in a communal setting (Crowther, XVII). Being a college student has allowed me to gain experience cooking in a communal setting individually as well as with my peers. Personally I do not enjoy cooking communally because of the inherent dirty dishes and tables that may accompany trusting college students to keep an open area clean. I have learned about the differences that occur between cooking with family as opposed to being in a place where you don’t have access to everything you would at home.

One night this summer, I was sitting around the table in my dorm living room eating with my 2 roommates (the ones whose company I actually enjoy) when I thought about the string of events that had to occur in all of our lives to bring us together at this one blacktop rectangular “table” which more so resembles a desk. It is definitely a nontraditional kitchen table which is reflective of the environment I am currently location: Xavier university where the tools for cooking are limited. This table interests me because of its ability to bring countless people together throughout the years of being at Xavier university and the style of table is pretty universal across all college campuses. The most interesting feature of these tables are the wheels that allow for extreme mobility.  This mobility represents the lives of so many college students that have to pack up their lives and move locations during the spring, fall, and summer intersessions. Chapter Five of Porta Palazzo described the relationship between migration and food that spoke wonders to the struggles of a college student on the move. “Food is something most migrants hold dear; it helps maintain relations in kin groups, strengthens ties to home, and is often deeply linked to memory”(Black, 94). This quote brings to mind the days prior to going back to visit home, in which I start to salivate at the thought of being able to go home and eat my Ba’s (grandmothers) home cooked Saak and Rotli and the importance that food holds to people who are away from home because there is an outlet to remain connected to those who are physically far. I personally feel comforted and safe when eating or thinking about classic Gujarati food made at home and eaten around our old school wooden kitchen table with 4 6 wooden chairs to match.

I used participant observation as my main anthropological method because I believe that first hand observation can be extremely valuable as they allow one to learn about the unconscious and less obvious practices of the usage of kitchen tables. I believe both informal interviews and participant observation are important and vital to understanding this research to the fullest potential however for this short 2 page blog post using a more directed research approach for a more in depth analysis of the table seemed to be more efficient and reasonable. Working hands on has always been more appealing to me as I learn the most from action and is also important for understanding culinary tradition and culture among people (and yes…college cooking is a culture that is filled with adaptable meals like instant pasta with sausage and random meats) (Crowther, XXI).

The first part of the research was the participant observation in which I studied my roommates and some friends throughout the food gathering, preparation, cooking, and cleaning process. The first part of this process was going to Jungle Jims, a local favorite when it comes to grocery stores, and we bought ground beef, onions, tomatoes, limes, cilantro, Mexican cheese, sour cream, and tortillas in order to create decadent soft tacos. We arrived to the enormous store at 4:30 on Sunday and then proceeded to walk around the outskirts of the store and then meandered into the middle of the store and picked up miscellaneous items like drinks on our journey. It is important to note that the items were split on all parties involved in the culinary adventure as some friends were responsible for buying beef, others cheese and sour cream, etc. I believe the division of responsibility made cooking a more inclusive environment in which everyone literally and metaphorically brought something to the table.

A speaker was placed on the kitchen table and music was played throughout the cooking process with bops ranging from “Crank That” by soulja boy to “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. I personally found this to be super cool as the kitchen table was used to house music, as many college students listen to music while eating/making food. I observed the cooking process in depth as each person in the kitchen has a different role. Laurens role was to cut the tomatoes, lime, cilantro, and onions, which was done on the black rectangular kitchen table. While Lauren was cutting Andrew, Sam, and I focused on defrosting the meat and cooking it thoroughly with the onions. Susanna’s role was to heat up the tortillas and keep the aux (music playing). Cooking went on all throughout the kitchen, however the  central location was the kitchen table that gracefully carried all of the ingredients on it. It was an unspoken rule that the kitchen table was supposed to remain organized and clean throughout the process of cooking, where people would constantly take time to wipe of the runaway vegetables that fell off plates. I also found in interesting that there were times in which all the cooking ceased and everyone circled up around the kitchen table to sing a song that was played as a bonding moment. These were my favorite memories as I felt emotions of happiness, peace, and belonging because despite the varying backgrounds everyone seemed to be on the same page.

The clean multipurpose kitchen table which housed music, random cooking supplies, the food, and cool people. 

Susanna eating some of the tomatoes during the meal prep stage. 

      Following the meal prep stage of the study was my personal favorite, the eating and cleaning process in which we all sat around the table spaced out perfectly to leave room for everyone to remain comfortable while maintaining a sort of closeness among the group. The table housed a variety of different foods as we had numerous plates laid out with vegetables, tortillas, chips, dip, and drinks for a self serve taco construction. I personally stuck with a classic taco with ground beef, salsa, cheese, tomatoes, and a hint of my own red masala for a mouthwatering combination of flavors. It was amazing and I loved how I was able to add in my own ingredient of masala in the perfect quantity without pushing that flavor onto the whole group. Following the demolition of 2 pounds of ground beef and about 15 tortillas, we started the cleaning process in which Lysol spray was used on the table followed by a quick wipe down of the surface to leave the blacktop with a shiny gleam.

When food is not being consumed or created using the kitchen table, it is typically occupied by my roommates and I as we all work on different task ranging from resume edits, making flashcards, sending emails, preparing for work presentations together. Even though food is not present there is still an aspect of communal working on the table that I find particularly interesting. Whenever I am working with them I always feel at ease and apart of a group which makes the task seem less daunting and thus easier as well.

At the start of the study I did not appreciate the idea of communal cooking, however this project has allowed me to understand the importance of cooking as a community. I typically cook my food alone, however during the participant observation section of the study I had so much fun being able to prepare a meal with people from different backgrounds.  Being able to share stories about our past and learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses was an amazing experience that I would gladly partake in on a regular basis. We have actually decided to make this newfound experience of buying groceries and cooking together a Sunday tradition for the rest of the summer J. This directly relates to the idea of eating “family style” similar to what we discussed in class with having many international families eating together as a means to build bonds and love among a family. I learned that even when one is away from family, they can still find family and that is very comforting for me as I have never been away from home for this long.

In conclusion the basic rolling table that most can find in college dormitories serve a vital role in bringing together people from all different walks of life, similar to what it has done for Andrew, Sam, and I this summer. I appreciate its versatility as it can be used before meals for prepping ingredients, during meals as a host for numerous people (more chairs can be rolled to the table depending on the number of guests), and after meals as a communal working space. Tables are a lot more intricate than they seem and I love how this table in particular shows a striking resemblance to the mobile life of college students who are constantly moving locations.




Journal #2 by Zoe Walker: The 100-Year-Old Table

My name is Zoe Walker a rising sophomore at Emory and for this particular assignment, I interviewed my Great Aunt Gwen about the history and cultural significance of her 100-year-old dining table. I conducted this particular interview because I feel like it is always important to know the history surrounding your family and your ancestors. Most of the family on my mother’s side now lives here in Georgia so there are always many opportunities to learn more about my history and the family’s migration from all over the world to where we are now. With that in mind, I believe one of the best ways to learn the history and culture of a family is to learn about life and history in the kitchen. As I have learned throughout this course, food is shaped by the people that create the food in each region and more importantly how it is set up and presented for meals. By learning about my great aunt’s dining table and getting to understand it as a cultural artifact, I can delve deeper into the history and culture of my family and how it has been shaped over time.

There are nearly one hundred years of history surrounding my great aunt’s table. Starting off the interview my great aunt mentions that the table was built in 1920 and is an oak round table with a pedestal and legs that are designed to look like lions’ feet. This was very indicative of the design style of that time. It is not as common to find that degree of flair today as tables and chairs have taken on a modern sleeker look. The lions’ feet give the table a regal ancestral feel to it, and to know my great aunt still holds on to it and it’s a focal point in the kitchen was fascinating to me. My great aunt purchased this table from an antique furniture store in her former neighborhood, Corona Heights, New York. She said that she used to shop second-hand stores because her father, my great grandfather, owned a second-hand store used furniture store that had similar furniture to this table, and antique dealers would always come by his store and buy these types of tables from him. By purchasing from a second-hand store she was preserving the history and tradition of her father and the antique dealers who would buy handcrafted tables and other furniture from him. This information surrounding the table was particularly interesting to me because I never knew my great grandfather so to learn this about him and know that our family possessed a table similar to the ones he used to buy and sell was very moving to me.

As mentioned earlier I used the anthropological method of an interview to study the dining table. I chose this method because I wanted to get a personal recounting of the history of the table told from my great aunt who has had it in her possession for so many years. By hearing the history surrounding this table, I was able to be transported to those earlier years of my grandmother, great aunts, and uncles lives that I wasn’t able to personally experience. Throughout the interview, I learned many things surrounding the history of this kitchen table. Along with the history surrounding why my great aunt purchased this table, this table has been the focal points of meals all throughout her adult life. I asked her about her day to day life when she was first living on her own. She told me many stories of living in Queens in a shared 3 story house with my grandmother and their other sister. My grandmother lived on the top floor, my Great Aunt Gwen on the middle floor, and My Great Aunt Sarah on the bottom floor. Even though they each had their own separate areas of living, they always gathered on the second floor to cook and eat together around my Great Aunt Gwen’s table for dinner. The second floor is also where they had family gatherings when their brothers who moved to Washington D.C and California came to visit. I then asked my Aunt Gwen about life surrounding this table once she got married and had kids. I learned that each of my three aunts celebrated many of their birthdays at that table. My great aunt always covered the table with a specific table cloth and baked a cake and all the family in New York would come to celebrate. This tradition continued once my aunts started having kids, and then their kids had kids. Each of my nine cousins has celebrated a birthday at that table which is extremely significant. During the interview, I asked my great aunt if there was anything significant that she keeps on the table. She mentioned that in the center of

the table there is an African basket my mom brought back from Africa when she visited during medical school. This also ties in my African heritage and I thought it was significant that this basket is the centrepiece of this table just like my African history is the center of my family. There are also wooden placemats that have all been written on by her nine grandchildren. She mentioned that while it may like scribbled writings from children, she loves these placemats because they are decorated with the writing of her grandkids.

Overall from this interview, I learned so much about the history surrounding my great aunt and my family. There are so many practices and traditions surrounding this kitchen table that have been ingrained in my aunt and our family. This table has served as a place for all of the family members to gather together no matter what occasion and celebrate together. This table also holds memories created not only from my aunt’s lifetime of having it but for the other families who owned it before it made it to the second-hand store where she bought it. It is obvious that the practices and functions of this table will live on through the next generation of family members who hold on to this 100-year-old table.

Kaya and her birthday cake

Family gathering for my Great Aunt Gwen’s granddaughter Kaya’s birthday.
My Great Aunt Gwen’s 100-year-old kitchen table

My Brother’s Kitchen Table: Charlie Redovian

The kitchen table is the focal point of many dinners in my life. To me, dinner is most enjoyable away from the distractions of screens in an area designed specifically for mealtime. For my paper, I wanted to go farther into the way my brother and his fiancé have designed their kitchen table. I spoke with him last week about the blog journal topic, so he has a basis for where my interests are coming from. My half-brother, Cameron, is almost seven years older than me. Our childhood was tumultuous which resulted in us having very different memories and experiences of what constituted our youth. It took me a long time to learn the ability to look at certain circumstances and understand that people will have a different take away based on their own life experiences. Therefore, I wanted to know more about Cameron’s eating space as maybe it could give insight into his perceptions of our shared experiences.

I went over to my brother’s apartment for dinner on Monday to study in person using participant-observation his eating space. He shares his apartment located on the top end of Atlanta with his fiancé Carolina and their dog Marley. Carolina has an equal share in my brother’s eating habits and dining area as they have been together for six years now. Carolina is from Colombia and immigrated to the Atlanta Metro area as a middle schooler. With both being from different backgrounds, they decided to pick a more neutral basis for their kitchen table. It is a unique table as it is about bar height requiring the chairs to be higher to compensate. Even though the table is a square, there are only three chairs, but there is also one bench seat. Underneath the table is a shelf for storage on which they put a lot of their boardgames. On the tabletop is a granite lazy Susan. As a centerpiece, they have an Egyptian wax warmer. When asked if the wax warmer had any use besides decoration, they directed my attention to the unlit candle underneath and to make my own conclusions. Together, they prepared me spaghetti and meatballs. They served it simply with a paper towel, one fork, and a can of Coke.

All these things make practical sense to Cameron and Carolina’s lives. They both lead very active lives with work and school. They may need to eat a meal standing up which is allowed by the table’s advanced height. When entertaining guests, which they do often, they can squeeze extra seating on the bench. They also have easy access to the board games found directly underneath. The lazy Susan has its upsides and its downfalls. At one point, I rotated the turntable to get the Parmesan cheese, which ultimately, is hardly any easier than either reaching across or asking for assistance. However, in the process of rotating, my can of Coke ended up in front of my brother which my brother unknowingly drank! Cameron and Carolina work hard for what they have, and they take joy in simplicity. Therefore, they do not feel the need to go beyond the necessities because to them, the basics are enough.

My Grandmother’s Simple Kitchen Table (Emily Mader)

My first name is Emily, and my middle name is Rose. I am named after my grandmother (on my mother’s side) whose first two names are Rosa Emilia. I am currently staying at her house in the Dominican Republic this summer. Despite sharing my name with my grandmother, I do not share her love for cooking. I’ve been greatly discouraged by the fact that no matter how hard I try and no matter how much seasoning I put, the results are always tasteless and bland. My grandmother, on the other hand, always has the magic touch that I seem to lack.

I have chosen to study my grandmother’s kitchen table as a chance to learn from my grandmother’s cooking, and also enable me to spend time with her. What interests me about my grandmother’s kitchen table is that its a piece of furniture that I’ve never paid much attention to. There’s nothing particularly striking about the table at first glance; it’s a small, simple steal table covered by a yellow table cloth and a clear plastic table cover. The table is also located in my grandmother’s closed off kitchen, whose access that is limited by a door from the dining room and a door to the ‘back yard,’ making the kitchen ill frequented by me and most members of the family. Most of the family gatherings and luncheons take place in the dining room with a large wooden table that can host up to six people. Despite the kitchen table being simple in design and not frequently visited compared to the dining table, the kitchen table is where the food gets made.

To study the kitchen table, the anthropological methods used will primarily be participant-observation and a little bit of interview. Participant-observation allows me to observe how the kitchen table is before, after and during meal preparation. I would be involved with preparing ingredients and cleaning up afterward. Being involved in the process will help me better understand how exactly the table is used. Interviewing enables me to gain more information that I otherwise wouldn’t get through just observing/participating in the meal prep process. For example, I can glean more into why certain objects are on the table and other situations in which the table is used that I might’ve not seen on the day I’m studying the table.

After observing my grandmother’s kitchen table a little more closely, I noticed that it was very simply decorated with a single red rose placed in a clear plastic cup and whose stem was cut close to the bulb. I had asked her where it came from and she told me that the family gifts her roses whenever possible, as a token to her name Rosa. This particular rose came from someone’s garden, and that is why it was unusually short and could only fit in a small plastic cup. My grandmother doesn’t mind the rose’s appearance but appreciates the gesture more. Usually, the kitchen table is decorated with more roses in a larger vase. The table also has a bowl with random but useful objects; my grandmother’s glasses, tape, a supermarket card, a small wrench, and a candle. I asked my grandmother why she placed all these objects in the bowl and why the items needed to be kept in the kitchen. She answered that the bowl is meant to be a fruit bowl, but instead became a placement for useful items, allowing for easy access since she is often in the kitchen.

Before and after meal preparation, the kitchen table is barely used and barely given any attention.   No one gathers around the kitchen table to have a conversation, no one does work on the kitchen table nor plays card games. All that activity is reserved for the dining table. The kitchen and the kitchen table only comes alive when my grandmother comes in and starts cooking. My grandmother starts taking out ingredients from the fridge and places them on the kitchen table. My grandmother gets out the knives and begins to cut the ingredients. The kitchen table is where all the slicing and dicing happens. My grandmother also uses the kitchen table to season her dishes, and to mix, mash and layer ingredients. Once the food is ready to be cooked, the food gets transported to the stove and onto the pan. The kitchen table then becomes an occasional resting place for my grandmother to take a break as she waits for the food to cook. She is seated patiently, observing for the moment to continue to stir the ingredients in the pan. During this time, she may also spark conversation with a family member who enters the home from the back door. After the meal is fully prepared, the kitchen table gets used as a placeholder for the dishes as they get transported to the dining table, where everyone gets together to eat.

My conclusion on grandmother’s kitchen table is her little place. An area for her to decorate with roses, in any size, shape or condition. It also serves as a mini toolbox for her to easily grab items that are important to her or that may be needed in the future. Most importantly, the kitchen table’s function is to be a place where my grandmother prepares all her food to serve to the family.