The Dining Table as a Cultural Artifact- Sarah Kim

The dining table is seen as an ordinary and typical item in most if not all household. However, this tables holds a cultural significance and is an important part of our family culture. I decided to go to my grandmother’s apartment for this assignment. Coincidently, my mother wanted me to pick her up from my grandmother’s apartment and my whole family stopped by for dinner. The reason I chose to study the uses and purposes of my grandmother’s dining table is because my grandmother introduced me to the Korean culture and helped me establish my Korean identity. As a second-generation immigrant, meaning children born in America with parents who were born outside of the United States, I assume the identity of a Korean-American. At first it was hard to find my place between my American and Korean cultures. However, my grandmother advised I embrace both and find friends similar to me. My grandmother taught me about Korean culture and exposed me to many traditional Korean dishes. I remember eating my favorite Korean dishes on her dining table as she asked how my day was. Just to give a little description of my grandmother’s dining table is a foldable one and we open the table whenever it is needed. It is a medium-sized wooden table that my grandma found at Home Depot, according to my grandmother. I used the anthropological method of participant observation. I also asked questions while we were eating dinner, but I did not have the time to interview my grandmother separately.

As a family, we set up the dining table. First, we put down the napkins and eating utensils. Then, we would set up the banchan, or side dishes in Korean. Finally, the main dish comes in, in this case, it was Samgye-tang. or ginseng chicken soup. My mother was having a hard time during work, so my grandmother cooked this soup so that replenish her. This setting up of the dining table was very interesting. Whenever we went to a restaurant, whether it is Korean, Chinese, or Italian, the table is always set up in this order. We waited for my grandmother to take her first bite and then we started to enjoy the meal. Filial piety, respect for elders and parents, is very important in our family. In Korean culture, we use honorifics to adults or people we are not familiar with. When we start eating, we also start up conversations ranging from school to work to any concerns we have. During the meal, I asked my grandmother what other uses she has for this table. She told me stories and happy memories regarding the table. Apparently, it was where I learned how to write my name in Pre-kindergarten and when I used a whole tube of red lipstick on my face. My grandmother told me she almost had a heart attack after seeing me like that. She also uses the table to practice writing her name in English. I saw pieces of loose-leaf paper in the corner of the table with her name written repeatedly. She also has small tea parties with her friends in the morning on the table. My grandmother told me the only thing grandmothers talk about is their grandchildren. It is funny how when I meet grandmother’s friends, they know me, but I sometimes do not have any clue as to who they are. After the meal, as a family, we cleaned up the table and then had fruits for dessert.

Through this assignment, I was able to see my family’s dinner on the dining table as an enlightening experience. I was able to realize that the dining table holds a significant place in each person of my family. Through having a certain space to do eat encourages you to converse with those in the same space as you. The conversations we have at the dining table provide us a chance to get to know each other more. Family is supposed to be the people who are the closest to you, yet there are many families where they do not know their children or their parents well. This small table allows us to see how much our siblings matured, discuss concerns and give advices. Moreover, the table allows for a familiar communal space. Since most households have a dining table, even at a stranger’s house we feel familiar and comfortable in this area. This relatively inexpensive and insignificant dining table helps us create eventful memories with family, provides bonding experiences, and educates us.




Young Cho: A Cultural Analysis of My Grandma’s South Korean Kitchen Table

Of varying shapes and sizes, the kitchen table is a universal symbol of gathering, socializing, and, most importantly, eating. While the food served on these tables may provide insight into a culture, how the culture’s kitchen table is utilized before, during, and after meals can also provide valuable information about the beliefs and values held by the culture as well. Despite being ethnically South Korean, due to living in the United States for over 15 years of my life and having parents who believed that the most important aspect of food culture was the food itself, I was never properly informed or made aware of the cultural aspects that came with the usage of the Korean kitchen table. Therefore, the purpose of this study will be to learn the usage of a traditional South Korean kitchen table, specifically my grandma’s, before, during, and after a meal and afterwards analyzing what I have learned to identify any potential South Korean cultural values and beliefs.

What particularly interested me to conduct this study about my grandmother’s kitchen table is the fact that this particular kitchen table had been used by my mother before me, along with her older sister, younger sister, and younger brother, and therefore has been around for over 40 years. It is also worth noting that my grandmother and grandfather on my mom’s side of the family still lives in the same house my mom and her siblings grew up in, in Busan, South Korea. This, in combination with using the same kitchen table, indicated to me that the traditions held there withstood the test of time, and would best represent the cultural traditions and beliefs that were associated with the South Korean kitchen table. The most fascinating aspect of my grandmother’s kitchen table is that it, unlike most tables in the United States that are heavy and locked into one position of the room, my grandmother’s table is portable due to being light and having all four of its legs being able to be tucked beneath it. As such, it does not see much usage until it is time to eat. In terms of physical characteristics, the table is rectangular, can sit approximately six people, and is composed of a red wood of unknown origin, and coated with a protective covering that makes it sleek and shiny. It is not elevated like most tables used in the United States, and has a low profile, requiring people to sit on the floor around it. On the four sides of the table is an engraving depicting an old traditional Korean parade, with a king and queen marching along a road with their horses and servants.

The main anthropological methods I used to conduct my study was an interview with my grandma over the phone, as well as comparison of the information from the interview. As I am currently about 7,200 miles away from Busan, South Korea, where my grandmother currently resides, the interview method was made due to convenience. The comparison method was used to draw important generalizations based on the information given through the interview, especially among different genders and age groups, to identify potential cultural values, and to make cross-cultural comparisons to Chinese and Italian cultures learned in class. To ease my grandmother, the interviewee, into the interview, I let my grandma know personally that I was an “American-country boy,” basically a novice of traditional Korean traditions, and was looking forward to learning from an expert. This was to ensure she was free to talk about every aspect of the kitchen table a question demanded. I also eased her into answering the questions by saying that she could recall stories of any recent or past family gathering or meal that involved the table. The interview itself was organized into three parts, the beginning with the table usage before the meal, then during the meal, and finally after the meal.  Each part was roughly 20 minutes. The questions asked in each part were open-ended and mostly specific to the particular stage of the meal (before, during, after). Specific questions that were asked in all three parts of the interview included where the table was situated during that particular stage of the meal, and any specific roles men and women had during that stage of the meal.

Before the meal, the table would be in the kitchen, completely unfolded, as the older women, which included my aunt, my mom, and my grandma, prepared the setup for the meal. The order of the setup on the table typically involved placing the utensils, the metal spoon and chopsticks, on the table first. My grandma mentioned that she and my grandpa would have a special pair of gold-colored utensils placed at the supposed head of the table, where they would sit, with everyone else having regular silver-colored ones. The food would go on the table as they were ready, with dishes of banchan, or Korean side dishes, and bowls of cooked rice going on first while the main dish, usually some form of stew, large plate of fish, or Korean barbeque, going on the center of table last as they usually take longer. My grandma specifically mentioned that seafood was more often than not the centerpiece of the table and also constituted a majority of the banchan than other kinds of dishes, citing sea urchins, soy marinated crab, and odeng (fish cake) as some of the common side dishes, and grilled mackerel, seafood soup, and grilled hair tail fish as some of the common main dishes. Sometimes, when vegetables or fruit needed to be cut or peeled and not enough room is available in the sink, this process occurs at the table before any food is set. When I asked about role the men and children play before a meal, my grandma said that they usually relax in the living room by talking or watching TV.

During the meal, the table is usually carried by the men, usually my uncle, dad, or grandpa, to be set in the living room area, while the women either finish preparations on the main dish or move to the living room to join them. After everyone is seated, no one touches even their chopsticks until the grandparents, at the head of the table, lifted theirs. Then everyone says, “thanks for the food,” and digs in. At this time the table becomes a social hub, full of energy from the stories, laughter, and even competition as children rush to eat the best side dishes and parts of the main course before their cousins and siblings. My grandma specifically recalled a story about how my mom, when she was in elementary school, would often steal her siblings’ odeng off their rice bowl when they were looking away. Moms would sometimes help young children who were not yet used to using utensils yet eat, often exchanging their chopsticks for a simpler fork. Adults would also transfer food to children and young adults at the table, telling them to “eat a lot.” Most food on the table, with the exception of individual bowls of rice and soup, are shared among those present at the table. After most of the food was eaten, one of the women would bring cups and a large jug of water for everyone to “wash down” the food.

After the meal, the women would move the table back to the kitchen, where the dishes, bowls and utensils were taken indiscriminately off the table and washed. Again, the men and children would relax by sitting in the living room, continuing conversation or watch TV while the women cleared the table. After the dishes were done, the table would be wiped clean with a wet cloth, have its legs folded, and tucked into a corner of the kitchen, silently awaiting the next meal.

Through an hour-long period of questioning and reminiscing with my South Korean grandma about the long traditions of her kitchen table, I was able to conclude some major aspects of South Korean culture, and the kitchen table as a cultural artifact. Through a comparison of gender roles in the preparation and cleaning of the table, the women are responsible for both the setting up and the cleaning up the table, which indicates that South Korea is traditionally a patriarchal society, where the women are responsible for the cooking and cleaning while the men tend to not associate with the kitchen at all, as they are expected to work to provide for the family outside the home. This is also reflected in Italian culture in the excerpt that was shown in class from the BBC show Two Greedy Italians, where the women supposedly, “look after the house and do all the cooking,” while the “men relax,” which is a nearly identical separation of labor that was described to me about South Korean kitchen culture. Additionally, the ritual of having separate utensils for the elders and not eating until the grandparents do shows that South Korean culture is rooted in having the utmost respect for elders. This respect for the elderly, most likely stemming from Chinese Confucian beliefs, shows an acceptance of cultural values from China to Korea, potentially through interactions such as trade in the early days of the nation. Finally, the fact that most of the common dishes present on my grandma’s table are seafood shows that the kitchen table serves as a canvas on which to paint information about a culture’s geographic location. In this case, Busan is a city close to the sea, and therefore the abundance of seafood on the table reflects the numerous seafood markets and shops that would result from being close to the sea. Therefore, the interview I had with my grandma displays the kitchen table as a cultural artifact worthy of study, representing the beliefs, history, and even the geographical location that influenced the formation of the culture.

The Goldilocks Table by Julia Rogers

My name is Julia Rogers and I am conducting a study in order to further understand the importance of a kitchen table that I eat at weekly. I believe that each table tells its own story through its size, shape, and most importantly, marks and bruises. To understand the dents on a table is understanding more than just an inanimate object but an entire group of people; a family. The table I observed is not out of the ordinary, in fact, this oversized wooden table belongs to Phyllis and Paul better known as my grandma and grandpa. I am one of nine grandchildren on my mother’s side. Nine grandchildren in addition to my two parents, four aunts and uncles, great aunt and uncle, second cousin and my beloved grandparents. My grandmother describes the task of squeezing all twenty of us around one table as “a complex one that has now become routine to us”. My family has used the table for over twenty years yet I never truly noticed the object. I was oblivious to the elegantly detailed cushions on each chair and the deeply engrained mahogany wood. I was so unaware that I was unable to recall whether the table contained a table cloth before traveling to my grandparents to check my unreliable memory. Now that my grandparents are moving to a new home, a new kitchen filled with a foreign table, I have used this reflection as an opportunity to observe their kitchen table. As I embark on this reflection, I am curious as to what meaning I will uncover behind the piece of furniture that has held the weight of my growing family for over twenty years before it is engraved in the memories of another.

In order to conduct this study, I used the anthropological method of participant-observation fused with interviews. While I am clearly aware of my own family story, I decided to observe before interviewing in order to allow myself to take an outsider’s perspective of the furniture and people before directly asking my grandmother about her table. According to the book, “Eating Culture” by Gillian Crowther, a crucial part of participant observation is partaking in the actual tasks, therefore, I did not observe from the sidelines rather, I remained a part of the dinner while recording observations. Following my intense observation, I decided to interview my grandmother, Phyllis, concerning some of the aspects of the table. The purpose of the interview was to reach a broader understanding of the table; one from those who use the space every day. From this, I was able to fact check my interpretations of the story and combine the two to create a deeper understanding of the table.

As I arrived at my grandparent’s hidden house, the story immediately began to unfold. This story is of a large rectangular table, eight seats on each side with one on each end. Twenty chairs crowded around the table insinuates a social family. My grandmother described her table as “The Goldilocks table, not too small not too big but just right for our family.” Now imagine this elongated rectangular table, a grainy mahogany finish coated with gloss, miniature dents engraining themselves around the outskirts. White, armless chairs crowd around elegantly filling the gaps surrounding the rectangle. Their once white cushions, with delicate floral accents, are splattered with stains, which suggests stories of past family gatherings. A splash of what appears to be a red sauce, a smudge of chocolate, a sprinkle of cake crumbs. Each chair contains its own story; its own pattern of spills. Strong smells of chicken and lightly salted potatoes waft through the kitchen and into the living room where the family gathers before the meal. Phyllis shoos stragglers out of the kitchen leaving the table vacant as it awaits the arrival of hungry guests. Everyone scurries to the living room where Paul, comfortably reclined in his chair, recites his famous stories. Family members gather around, gaping in awe at his astounding tales until, Phyllis shuffles into the living room, interrupting her husband in order to summon everyone back into the kitchen. “Supper’s ready, everyone grab a plate!” she echoes into the crowded room. The food flows across the island of the kitchen in a buffet manner. Garden salad with freshly made balsamic dressing, lightly salted finger potatoes, a neon yellow Jell-O with a creamy base, and finally an enormous roasted chicken, golden and crisp. Each family member chooses a plate from the pristinely set table and serves themselves family style, overflowing their plates with delicious food carefully prepared by Phyllis. Adults tend to drift towards the back of the line, allowing the children to eat first. There is no assigned seating although based on the way the family seats themselves it seems as if there is an invisible name card carefully placed at each chair. It appears to be a game of strategic musical chairs; the adults drifting towards one end with the children on the other. The last to sit, Phyllis and Paul, place themselves on each end of the large table. Phyllis sits on the kids end while Paul places himself at the head of the adults as they prepare themselves for more of his tales. The youngest cousin takes a small bite of her chicken and proceeds to slyly feed the rest to the dog, dropping juice onto the once clean seat cushions. Conversations loosely flow across the table of college, significant others, and sports teams. About forty-five minutes later, guests clear their plates carefully placing them into the dishwasher before returning to the now sloppy table. The adults remain circled around Paul while the children run to the living room to play games, and glare at the television. After dinner, for a moment, the once playful table becomes cramped with adult banter. Once everyone has made room in their expanding stomachs, Phyllis gathers the dessert. This, it seems, is her favorite part of the meal as she giddily places a birthday cake on the table which reads “Happy Birthday Samantha & Nicole!” She secretly swipes her finger across the frosting on the bottom to “take a taste to make sure it’s ok for everyone else to eat.” Upon interviewing Phyllis she explains that there are birthdays celebrated at almost every Sunday family dinner given the immense size of the family. This Sunday the family celebrates two sisters, Samantha and Nicole, as they reach a new year in their lives. Phyllis shuffles into the living room, summoning the children to crowd once more around the large rectangular table. They sing an enthusiastic happy birthday before gorging themselves in cake and ice cream. Laughter, stories, and three flavors of ice cream are passed around the table from one family member to the next. Chocolate frosting is smeared on the white table cloth, coffee ice cream drips into the fabric of the seat cushions. While the family messily eats and shares their thoughts, Phyllis quietly seats herself at her designated end of the table admiring the family that she has brought together over her dinner, over her kitchen table.

I have concluded that the table I have observed serves as a social destination. A place for family and friends to gather and talk at any time of day about any subject or matter. In this case, a kitchen table is defined as an inanimate object that revolves around social gatherings. Family and friends unite among a large chunk of wood being held up by four stumps. It amazes me how an object so simple to construct has the ability to form such special memories and social bonds as sturdy as the table itself. Based on the many markings throughout the table, one would assume that the table has served this family for many years, watching each family member grow up individually as children to adults, adults to elders. Although each family member travels along their own journey, they seem to all come together surrounding this one table to share their stories as they forge their separate paths. They are each their own person but what makes the family whole is this table. This space that allows them to gather and share Grandma Phyllis’ famous noodle kugel, Aunt Barbara’s lemon Jell-O, or Aunt Stephanie’s sour cream coffee cake. It’s more than just the food that they are sharing though, it is the experience. They share experiences which turn into memories. So, after observing a table that I thought I had known for twenty years I found so much more than a piece of furniture. I found my family, deeply rooted in each grain of the wood, and sealed with a coat of gloss preserving our memories for years of family dinners to come.

My grandparent’s kitchen table. When we have family dinner on Sundays, they add extensions to either end to make it fit twenty people!
My grandmother surrounded by eight of her nine grandchildren. We are gathered around to celebrate my brother, Ben, for his 18th birthday four years ago.


I referred to “Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food” by Gillian Crowther

I also referred to class discussion for a better understanding of the different anthropological methods

Stokes’s Kitchen Table-Adrienne Liou

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.

The Multi-generational Table

This family has always been a sporting family. It really started with the grandfather. He was on the tall side – 6 foot 7. He was a star basketball player in high school, but his heart was always on the golf course. Going into his house one would see a large array of trophies and prizes from various tournaments. The most precious prize, little did he know it at the time, was a dining room table he won for his wife. Well to be entirely correct, he got coupons to a furniture store annually for winning their golf tournament. He won it so many times that every piece of furniture from his home was from golfing. This table was a huge Tuscan style wood table with 10 chairs, but many more could squeeze in. I am a distant observer in this story, for this table was before my time. I write as an outsider, for I have no memory of the table itself. It was my mother’s childhood table, and mine as well, when I was much younger. Using the informal interview anthropological method, I am conducting this study in order to have a deeper understanding of my family’s background, and to have a better recollection of my childhood. My intention is to use an informal interview because the best information I can observe is through my mother’s recollection and storytelling. Gillian Crowther in Eating Culture An Anthropological Guide to Food states “The everyday reality of life is most strongly felt and experienced by individuals” and because of this I knew my mother is the best person to talk to about her family table because she has seen it from multiple perspectives, both as mother and child, and because she has experienced the table in every stage of its life. My mother was happy to discuss this with me, and I only had to ask one question to really get the stories rolling.

The table started its family life off in my grandmother’s (my mother’s mother) home. There it was so large it filled the entire front room, a happy and welcoming place to all that entered the house. Outside of meals, this table held many different purposes. On this table my mother had all her childhood holidays and momentous occasions. She did her college applications there. The most fun she said her, and her sister ever had was doing each other’s wedding invitations on that same table. Her grandmother passed the recipe of my family’s pasta sauce down to her mother there. The table then moved onto my family in Pittsburgh, where my older brother and I would always eat and my mother became the chef, and the cuisine shifted to a heartier Irish cuisine, her specialties being shepherd’s pie and soda bread. Today the table sits in the center of my cousin’s home, where Polish feasts cover the table. The table, no matter where it is, has always been the centerpiece and meeting space of one big happy family.

Before meals, this table was a meeting place, where children would come into the room, slam down their book bags, and get an afternoon snack. A happy mother would look on, planning the night’s meal. After clearing the table, the children would help to set up for dinner. The cook, often my grandmother/mother, would then set down the food, always family style, and the meal would begin. A family tradition was set at this table. It is called “best and worst” where everyone would have to share the best and worst things that happened during the day. With this simple game, the table built daily connections between siblings and parents. Many stories and cheering up took place at the table. After the meals is when the table really came to life. On one side of the table, there was always a dedicated study area, where one could do homework and prepare for the next day, the other housed the “card sharks.” My mother recalls there seemingly always being a game of cards taking place with my grandmother and other relatives after big meals, and the table was the center of it.

In conclusion, this kitchen table’s greatest quality is what is consistent across my family’s different cultures. The ability to be a central, welcoming comfort zone for generations has been what makes this table so significant. The table is large enough to fit everyone with all the homemade food one could eat. As these stories in the interview unfolded, I feel a warmth and connection to my family’s history, though I do not remember the table itself. I remember emotions mixed with smells and flavors of family’s specialty foods, and I am grateful for the center of our lives that was this table.

The Two Kitchen Tables – Yujin Choi

The Two Kitchen Tables

I happened to be living in my grandmother’s house the week this journal was assigned so the timing was perfect to be conducting the study at her place. Because of my summer internship camp, I had to reside away from home for a week, and the closest place I could stay was my grandma’s. At first, I wasn’t confident if I could discover anything new or intriguing about the kitchen table at this place, because I thought it would be the same as eating in my own home. However, the first meal I had with grandma definitely caught my attention, when the only two people in the house, my grandmother and I, started eating in two distinct locations. 

My grandmother’s house is pretty big, big enough for a four-person family, but Nana is the only resident. Her former housemate, our beloved grandfather, passed away over 14 years ago. Back then, Nana refused to move out, so she’s been filling up that huge space all by herself. In the kitchen, the huge dining table that was my grandparents’ wedding present stands with confident reverence. That was where I thought we’d both be eating our meals. 

“Nana, why are you eating there?” I asked when I sat down naturally at the big dining table in the huge kitchen, where Nana had set up my plate for me, but wasn’t joined by my grandmother. Instead, she placed her meal on the elongated kitchen counter near the back veranda of the house. It was barely big enough for her two plates. I was confused why she was eating there. She had all this space, but she continued to say “It’s okay, love, eat at that table. I like watching you eat from here.” when I asked her to eat with me at the table. 

As the research began that week, I slowly began to recognize the existence and significance of the two dining tables. Throughout the 7 days, the anthropological method that I decided to use in my grandmother’s home was participant observation. This method allows people to be involved in a foreign culture through intense involvement over a certain period of time. I chose this method because it was easily done as I was able to immerse myself directly in not only my grandmother’s food but also the culture at the table by residing at my grandma’s place and having to eat dinner together every night. Also, by being at the dining table, I was able to carefully observe my grandmother at the kitchen counter with a third person’s perspective. I decided against an interview because I thought the participant observation gave a more objective view of the meaning behind both the kitchen counter and the dining table; a structured 1:1 interview could have provided my grandmother space to fib about the truth.

The kitchen counter, a.k.a., my grandmother’s dining table, was a metaphor of many. First, the counter served as the control center. The view from the counter to the main dining table was conspicuous. Her eyes, barely focusing on her own meal, darted in my direction every couple bites. If she felt that I was almost finished a side dish or a bowl of rice, she would quickly recharge my meal with the right components.

Something to realize about Korean meals is that it’s just never one dish. A meal normally consists of many small side dishes called “ban-chan” which are prepared extensively even for the smallest portions. These could consist of kimchi, black soy beans, salted spinach, sweetened anchovies, and more. They come with the main carb, a bowl of rice, as well as some other main stew or protein, usually soy bean paste stew or oven-cooked mackerel.

The kitchen counter also represented motherly sacrifice. As I said before, whenever I was eating at the big table, my grandmother was barely able to concentrate on her own dishes. Eager for my well being, she would be so quick on her feet to fill my plates that she barely had time to empty her own. Even for the sake of the research, I couldn’t bear to watch that, so I would always tell her “I’m fine, Nana, eat your own food.” But she would jokingly refuse and just ask if I needed more rice. The small kitchen counter also couldn’t fit the variety of banchan dishes I always had the privilege of having every dinner. The surface was perfect for just a bowl of rice, a cup of water, and a small plate for kimchi. She would again refuse any of my attempts at giving her my ban chan, saying that she could cook them anytime later.

The second table is the actual dining table that stretched across the whole dining room. The table, a wedding present for my grandparents, was the most prized possession of my grandmother and the last bit of my grandfather’s trace she wanted to leave in her house. The intense black paint over the wood had faded over the course of 50 years but not scratched in the tiniest bit. It was very well taken care of, as if someone had polished it down almost every week. During my stay at my grandmother’s house, the dining table was never to be touched before or after any meal. It was left void of any mess, and only when my meal was prepared and set at the table was it finally used. After my dinner, my grandmother would just whisk away my plate and tell me to go sit in the living room. I observed that she would quickly reset the table back to its original state, wiping off any trace of food that I must have slipped. The table was then left alone until the next day. Its sole purpose was to feed me. Not even the owner herself, but just me. The table, filled with unique and invaluable memories with my grandfather, was to be carefully maintained and not be worn out by multiple uses. Yet, she was willing to spend those remaining uses for her granddaughter.I I became quite emotional after thinking this through, because I realized that my grandmother was willing to utilize her most valuable item for me, even when she herself was too careful to.

Although both used as a tool for consuming food, the functions and the practices associated with these two tables were distinct. Each table has its own main character and serves different purposes. For my grandmother, the counter is not really a place for her to eat; it’s a place where she can nonstop sprout her love for me with her haste dining and constant questions. For me, the dining table was a place where I ate. It was a place where I could fill my hunger with the love of my grandmother’s food and the preciousness of the table’s value. 

This is not a cliche story about how the kitchen table was used as a gathering point, a communal space, or a communication hub for the family. My experience at my grandma’s was very different. It truly showed me what love and sacrifice on the kitchen table were in the most genuine and raw form, at times which could have been heartbreaking to finally observe. I could say, however, without a doubt that my grandmother filled my dinners with unconditional love, something I’ve always felt in any other family kitchen table that I’ve immersed myself in.

Class Material Reference

  •  Eating Culture – An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther

Dining Table as a Cultural Artifact – Francesca Cabada

For this assignment, I decided to go to my aunt and uncle’s home for dinner in an effort to further understand the cultural significance and uses of their dining table. Although I really only wanted to use an interview as an anthropological method my aunt Beatriz insisted that I stay and eat dinner with them making this study also use the anthropological method of a participant observer. It was relatively easy to establish who I was, given that this was my family and I was interviewing my aunt for this assignment. However, it was a little harder to convey why I was conducting this study. After many attempts to explain that a kitchen table could serve as a cultural artifact that can be used to shed light on the lives and practices of particular people/cultures, my aunt understood the purpose of the study and we could continue with the interview.

The reason I chose my aunt and uncle’s home/dining table is because they are a very traditional Peruvian family. I am very intrigued by their life because it is very different from mine, my aunt and uncle have been married for 45 years, have three adult daughters who have children of their own. Traditionally in Peru, it is very custom to live at home with your parents until you get married (which could be as late as 30+ nowadays). It is also common for the wife of the household to be a stay-at-home mom/homemaker and for the husband of the household to work. Although, my aunt and uncle emigrated from Peru to the U.S. they were still able to maintain these cultural norms, unlike my mother and immediate family who have adapted more to the fast-paced life of the U.S. My uncle and aunt also live with their 2 younger daughters who are not married and are in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Additionally, I am interested in their dining table because it is an actual art piece custom made from old wooden doors from Peru. This was very exciting to me because the table was made to serve as a decorative piece with many functions and it was genuinely a Peruvian table in a Peruvian household.

As mentioned, before I chose the anthropological methods of interview and participant-observer. I fell into the participant-observer role because my aunt instead that I stay for dinner and I felt the interview would give me a good perspective on what they use their dining table for on a day to day basis. Throughout the interview, I learned many things about the use of the kitchen table. I asked about the use of the table that did not include eating and asked my aunt to give me a rundown of their daily life. I learned that my aunt purposefully wanted the table to serve as an art piece because when no one is using it would take up space and she wanted it to still be beautiful while functional. Additionally, she wanted the table to remind her of home, which is Peru and she actually had the front doors of her home in Peru taken down to make part of the dining table. My aunt also mentioned that every day before dinner time, it is very typical for my cousins and uncle to come home from their jobs and meet at the dinner table to chat about their day. The table is usually where they first get together to decompress from their busy days typically over some tea or coffee. Then around 8 or so my aunt will serve dinner on the table and everyone usually eats for about an hour or so and most of the meals would be traditionally Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, lomo saltado, papa la huancaina, and aji de gallina. After this usually everyone helps in the clean-up process and serves themselves either a glass of wine, tea, or coffee traditionally a café con leche (which is mostly milk). My aunt also mentioned that the table is used for homework throughout the day and as well as any computer work that people may have. Additionally, I learned that my aunt usually uses the dining table when sewing or making clothing, pillows, and blankets.

Unfortunately, I was not there to witness all these different uses of the dining table. However, I was able to enjoy a traditional meal of Peruvian Chifa which is Asian style Peruvian cuisine. We had fried rice, a wonton like dish, salad, sweet potato, fried shrimp, etc. Interestingly enough my aunt and I had our interview before dinner right on the dining table. After dinner, I helped my aunt clean up and we talked more at the table over some coffee about my life/schooling. It was interesting to see and learn about all the different functions a dining table could serve. In particular, I found that a dining table could serve as a place for meetings, communal workspace, eating space, a needlework station, and even for classroom interviews! I found that the table brought people together and helped support people in their work and other life endeavors that do not only include eating. Without the table, many of these family interactions would not happen in the same way and I do think that it could contribute to carrying cultural traditions through generations and possibly strengthening family ties.

Alex Shen, journal #2

My name is Alex Shen, and I am conducting this study on my best friend Kevin’s kitchen table. Kevin and I have been close friends for more than 6 years, and I have paid countless visits to his house, but never had the chance to have a dinner at his place. It should be really interesting to observe someone else’s kitchen table other than the one in your own family, because I think it can reveal a lot about a family: family culture, eating culture, relationships among family members and one household’s economic status. So after asking Kevin for permission to conduct this study, I went to his place this weekend, spent an afternoon there and joined his family for a dinner. I hope through this study, I get to know more about Kevin’s family and hopefully make us closer. 

I have always noticed before when I visited his house, that the kitchen table is bigger than normal size, and almost twice as big as mine. What’s more, his table has a lazy Susan in the center which is commonly used in Chinese restaurants but rarely seen in private houses. I imagined that his family uses a big kitchen table because his four grandparents live with them in the same house, but I am still curious about what it’s like to have a party of 7 people having family dinner at the same table every day. It must be so different from my family’s dinner atmosphere because it’s usually just me and my mother, and we just eat for fifteen to twenty minutes and then have a talk after that. I imagine the whole dinner process should be completely different at Kevin’s house.

While conducting this study, I employed several anthropological methods. First is fieldwork. I didn’t just call him or text him to interview him about his kitchen table, but actually went there to experience it myself, and I think it is only possible because I am really close to him, which is unique about my study. I choose to actually be there because I want to get a sense of the function and importance of a big table to a big family by feeling it for myself, not hearing it from Kevin, which would no doubt contain his own point of view. Also, I really wanted to see the transitions of the tables being used before, during and after dinner. Also, I interviewed Kevin before dinner to get a thorougher grasp of the background I need to know, for example, is there a dinner ritual that your family has. What’s more, I used comparison, in which I compared his kitchen with mine. I think through comparison between Kevin’s kitchen table and mine, I will be able to better generalize the function of his kitchen table, and understand the role that table plays in his family. 

I arrived at about 4 pm, and his grandparents were already preparing dinner(dinner began at 7:30 that day). While dinner was being prepared, I sat at the kitchen table and had a talk with Kevin. I asked what type and style of food his family usually eat and is there anything forbidden at the table, and he said that both his parents and both his grandparents are from Shandong province, so they really like to eat green Chinese onion and garlic raw, and that I should never stick my chopsticks upright into the rice bowl, which is not auspicious. When I was talking to Kevin, his father’s mother was at the other side of the table stitching a sweater(but it’s still summer), while talking to Kevin’s mother about household stuff. When approaching dinner time, everyone in the family went to help bring out the dishes. First it’s some wine and glasses, then they brought bowls for rice, all the dishes, and finally the soup. And when we were eating, the lazy Susan served with great importance because there were eight of us having dinner, it would have been possible for everyone to taste all the dishes without the lazy Susan. After dinner, Kevin, his dad, and his grandpa stayed to have some more wine, and Kevin’s mother and grandmother went to wash the dishes. And after all was done, the whole family sat down to talk about each one’s day, work, and me(because I am a guest). And even later than that, the table still served some purposes. Because Kevin’s father’s parents live on the first floor(so “dose” the kitchen table), they spent time reading books by the table before going to bed. 

After the day spent at Kevin’s place, I had a better understanding of their kitchen table. The table serves not only as a place for meals, but also where they have family meetings. The table is usually clean and tidy at non-meal time, and it is not only for food, but also for family gathering. I enjoyed the most when the whole family was talking after they finished dinner. It is a unique family culture of Kevin’s, when they can not only share and reflect on their own about the day, but also enhance the relationship among family members. This is unique to Kevin’s family, because there are 7 people living in that house. At my home, I usually just eat with my mother and have a talk with her elsewhere(her bedroom or the living room), and for most of the time, I will be in my study doing work. So the atmosphere is quite different between our families, which is expressed through the kitchen table. The table is somewhat like a carrier of the love inside the family, and if the family is big, it is more obvious. 

From Trader Joe’s to Janice’s kitchen

I am a rising senior who is an Anthropology and Human Biology major at Emory. Growing up, my mom always home-cooked for the whole family and we hardly ate out because it was deemed unhealthy. Before going to college, I had no interest in cooking and never learned how, which I deeply regret. Janice is one of best friends at Emory and we have had different lifestyles and eating habits growing up as she often cooked for herself at home. I am conducting this study because I would like to explore how other college students eat in a typical day and how it compares with my own perspective and experiences as college students are often busy with school, extracurricular activities, social life, and work. Janice currently works full-time as a scribe at the Emory Hospital, working 12 hours shifts 4 times a week and during various hours. She does yoga at least five times a week and is also currently taking a summer online class.

During this study, I implemented some anthropological methods of participant observation, comparison, and informal interviewing. Through participant-observation, I am trying to live a day in her life to understand her perspective, while also applying my own experiences and perspectives to “draw a wider conclusion about how the culture and society work” in this eating culture. This was done through the everyday task of buying the food from the grocery store, Trader Joe’s, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up together. Through sharing this entire experience together, I learned more about her everyday eating habits.

We bought a variety of frozen meals together as this was going to last for the week and she gave me many recommendations, such as the cauliflower stir-fry, mushroom risotto, samosa, and chicken burrito bowls. We bought many snacks such as white cheddar corn puffs, various cheese and crackers, guac, and the infamous cookie butter, which are all snacks that I have never tried before. We spent around 30 minutes in the grocery store, trying to find food as cheap, least messy, and as quickly as possible. We then went home and put everything away. Janice has a small dining room table that has four seats and is typically bare with no decorations that is used for the sole purpose of doing homework and eating. Before cooking the risotto, we both ate some corn puffs and cookie butter straight from the jar. The risotto has two options, we could either pour it in the saucepan or we could microwave it. Seeing that both are easy and fast, we decided to cook. She stated that she attempts to limit “zapping” her food too much and that it tastes better in a pan anyways. However, if she was just cooking for herself, she was more likely to microwave it in order to avoid the extra step of washing a pan. Cooking in the pan consisted of approximately 6 minutes on high with just 2 tablespoons of water and two packets of risotto and then split the portion onto two plates. We bring the plates to the table and chat and ate while we occasionally are on our phones. Sometimes, she will eat on her futon while eating on her couch as she watches a movie. After we finished our risotto, we left the dish in the sink, while we went to sit and watch a movie. After the movie, it was about time for me to go home. As a guest, I am uncomfortable to leave a mess and we wash the two plates together. As of right now, she does not run the dishwasher in order to save money on electricity and water as she is living alone.

Through informally interviewing and participant observation, I notice that Janice priorities fast, convenient, cheap, and flavorful food. She attempts to be conscious about her health by acknowledging the calories that she consumes in a day but does not prioritize it too much. She occasionally eats out with friends or during a spur of the moment cravings as long as it is cheap, such as taco bell. As a college student, the main priority for her is the cost, and getting the most bang for her buck. She also pointed out that she does not exactly know how to cook, except for eggs and pasta and just moving food around in a saucepan, which is why she buys so many snacks and instant meals. I asked if she has thought about cooking more homemade food, but she says that it involves too much meal-prepping, seasoning, cooking, and cleaning, which overall is just too much time and work and a higher chance of messing up.

I have learned that as a typical college student, our priority is simplicity and cost-efficiency. Comparing to my own experience, I would say mine is almost similar in that I have the same thought process, however, I grew up in a household with the mentality of eating very few to no instant meals because my mom looks down upon consuming too many preservatives. I eat a lot of pasta and sandwiches and I will go out to eat around once a week. I eat on my kitchen island or on my couch as I do not own a kitchen table.  According to eating culture, comparisons allows “broader patterns and associations to be highlighted.”

The kitchen table is different and varies with each person and household based on priorities. This is learned and the ideals are often passed down by our parents. However, our environment and daily schedule can deeply influence what and how we eat. According to Abraham,”students may have proficient knowledge regarding nutritional requirements; however, the transition to college life gives them more freedom to choose the type and the amount of food they eat.” As college students, the only person we are concerned about and cooking for is ourselves and that is reflected in our kitchen table. The kitchen table has no significant meaning to her, except for the sole purpose of doing the bare minimum at least while she is in college, but as we grow and our lives change, the significance of the kitchen table changes with us.

Image result for trader joe's mushroom risotto Image result for trader joe's mushroom risotto

Abraham S, Noriega Brooke R, Shin JY. College students eating habits and knowledge of nutritional requirements. J Nutr Hum Health. 2018;2(1):13-17

My Grandparent’s Kitchen Table (Tyler Herrod)

My grandmother has always been one for extravagance. She likes to host large dinner parties with her friends, buy fancy clothes, and broadcast her wealth in any way that she can. Her home, according to my father, falls into the interior design styling of “frou frou”, but to the well-trained eye, it is more Victorian. Either way, her home is artful, and her dining room is no exception. Large families, like mine, tend to have a designated house that they gather at for each holiday, and my grandmother willingly accepts the offer each season. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all done at her home, which is a short 20-minute drive from my own. At each holiday, we always eat at her dining table as a family.

This particular table has always been an interest of mine. It is made of solid dark wood, maybe eight inches at it thinnest. The corners and legs are all decked out in ornamentation that appropriately places the table in the styling of the rest of her home. The chairs, of course, match the wood of the table, but they are also upholstered with a beautiful beige paisley and dark brown leather design that seems like too much of a work of art to be sat on in the daily. I chose this table, as it is a solid piece of furniture with history within the family.

I explained the role of this reflection to my grandmother. “So you want to interview me about my table?” to which I responded “Yes, but more importantly, I want to learn about how where we eat has an impact on our food culture.” I dived into the Noodle Narratives course and defined concepts like food anthropology and cultural relativism to boost my credibility as an interviewer. I brought with me a quote from Eating Culture – An Anthropological Guide to Food by Gillian Crowther, which said that, “the activities surrounding food acquisition, preparation, and consumption, lead themselves to cross-cultural comparison, allowing us to conjure into existence others’ lives through a shared everyday experience of eating.” From this quote, I explained how the culture of food is made up of much more than just the meal that we eat.

The interview process would be a simple 20 minute conversation about the specific table, its history, and how it fosters community. My goal from using this anthropological method was to gain my grandmother’s perspective on family gathering and the table’s role as a cultural artifact. I would also observe the table for myself, including how it was set up, the design, and how a typical meal would run.

I learned that the table had been in her home since she retired and moved to Texas from California 11 years ago. She purchased the table from an antique refinishing company at the request of her interior designer. The table and chairs had been re-stained to repair any fading of the wood, and the chairs needed to be reupholstered after years of wear and tear. The end product was sent to her home and has not moved since. When questioned about its use, my grandmother said that “it is saved for special occasions. When it is just me and your grandfather, we eat at the kitchen table.” She wanted to protect the wood from any avoidable stains from daily eating, and she thought it was “a little weird” to eat at a table with seating for up to ten when there was only one or two. She did, however, still use the table daily, but just for a different purpose. When I first arrived at her home, I noticed an almost complete puzzle with the remaining pieces scattered across the wood surface. I helped her complete it while we were talking, and she explained that she’d frequently “set up shop” at the dining room table because it was the biggest open space. Beyond puzzles, she would also play cards or board games with her husband there. Even without joining for a meal, the table still worked to foster a gathering of people. Had I not been interviewing her about the specific table, I was still pretty confident that our chat would occur in the same place, as the dining room was a place for conversation.

During the meals that did occur there, she explained that it would always be served family style. The large roast, usually a turkey or ham, would showcase in the center, with different accompanying dishes flanking the sides. When asked why she chose to serve the meals like this, she explained that when she was going to use the dining room table, it would be for large meals that required the space. It is too laborious to have to dish out every side dish on every plate. Plus, she said, “when you are eating with family or a group of close friends, you can lose the pretense and just allow everyone to enjoy the food as they want to.” This statement reminded me of the introduction in Eating Culture, where the author was at a “fancy restaurant” and had “cutlery anxiety”.  My grandmother, similar to the author, Gillian Crowther, thought it was too proper to have everything served to you, and eating buffet style at the table incorporated more conversation about the food amongst friends. She mentioned that this conversation would often extend for close to an hour after the last fork had been laid to rest. It was not often that the whole family would be gathered together, so there would usually be a lot to catch up on. The table simply served as the foreground for that conversation.

In conclusion, I learned that this table’s main function is to be used as a gathering point for large meals that are served family style. The table is long in length, so it can seat many people who circle the main course that is placed as a centerpiece. The types of dishes that are served at this table are traditional American holiday recipes of roasted meats accompanied by several side dishes such as potatoes, salads, and breads. Regular meals are not eaten at this table due to its large size and expensive design that would be wasted on the daily breakfast of toast and coffee that is eaten by my grandparents. Instead, before meals, and when not entertaining guests, they use the table as a home for their board games and activities between a retired husband and wife. Even in these instances, the table is used as a cultural artifact to promote conversation about food and a gathering between people.