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Food Studies: Re-Evolving Table Manners

Design Management MFA Leslie Marticke wonders whether Slow Food chapters help our fast food culture rediscover lost dining traditions.

Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Leslie's first post, which explains how a trip to Italy inspired her Design Management thesis topic: the impact of Slow Food chapters in the Southern United States.

"The complex codes governing good table manners—elaborated through the centuries and handed down from generation to generation, adapting to changing lifestyles and dominant social groups—could have never developed in a fast food culture."Daniela Romagnoli, "Mind Your Manners: Etiquette at the Table," in Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present

In my introductory post, I mentioned the notion of life structures: the routines, customs, and traditions that shape our mental and physical environments and help to create order within life’s complex and chaotic systems. After finishing Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari’s Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, I'm beginning to understand the implications of certain life structures on local eating cultures from the earliest civilizations to present society. And much of what was documented on these early forms of conviviality still resonates with Petrini’s original Slow Food philosophy.

In the classical worlds of the Greeks and Romans, the banquet symbolized the importance of belonging, the formation of identity, and a place for social exchange, while also establishing hierarchy among members of a particular group. The simple act of sharing a meal became known as conviviality and was imagined as the "cornerstone of civilization." During these celebrations, eating was more than an act of physical necessity, it was a way to enhance social relationships and build community.

This is not unlike the dining room table of the 1950s, where dinnertime meals represented the essence of family life, where bonds were strengthened, identities were created, and traditions were formed. However, dinner is no longer characterized by communal eating practices involving all members of the family, freshly prepared food, and carefully arranged chairs, plates, napkins, and silverware. Today, dinner, in addition to breakfast and lunch, is convenient, cheap, fast, and processed. Patterns of daily life have been transformed in the face of urbanization, industrialization, the increase of women in the paid workforce, and a rise in education levels and standards of living. This is not just a national phenomenon; a global transformation is underway in many areas where food is concerned.

It should come as no surprise that a counter-culture movement has emerged to offset the effects of an over-industrialized society. But what effect does the Slow Food movement have on people's daily lives in regions with active chapters? Does it instill a sense of community? Does it foster a deep connection to place and to producer? Does it promote various opportunities for education and new ways of looking at the world? Or is it the simple act of eating that unites us all despite our race, sex, religion, culture, background that creates the most sincere attraction?

These are the questions I am trying to answer. Focusing on numbers is a typical way of acquiring funding and recognition. Although the impact of Slow Food goes far beyond what numbers can represent, a system of metrics to measure its significance could prove to be a powerful tool for active chapters across the United States and beyond.

As I continue my research, I want to ask you for help. If you are involved with a Slow Food chapter, or have participated in one or many Slow Food sponsored events, please share your insights with me (leslie[dot]marticke[at]gmail[dot]com). I look forward to hearing from you!

To be continued... Leslie is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang here.

All photos, showing dining tables and eating customs around the world, are by the author.

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