Sunday, January 29, 2012

Its not what you eat, its how you eat it

Topic: Practices regarding food

Source: Since I was younger, I was always told not to eat with my elbows on the table. Not only was putting my elbows on the table comfortable, it was a convenience. These rules have since become more lenient, especially in a cafeteria environment. Every person needs food, so I became interested in the customs that are taught when eating and how ours differ. Much of my observation was done with close friends and also at the school cafeteria.

Relation: In class we discussed how something as simple as greetings is deeply seeded within a given culture. Since my discussion group is food, I decided to look at the customs that are embedded in our culture.

Description: I eat. A lot. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I grew up with a very diverse selection of food around. When I was younger I would go to an Indian restaurant and think, “why are we sitting on the floor?” or a Chinese restaurant and think “why are we supposed to use these chopsticks?”. I had a very ethnocentric view on their cultures. Using sticks and sitting on floors was not at all what I had been used to and had seemed wrong at the time. Then a few years ago I took an eating etiquette class. Since I was more mature at that time, I decided to look at the things I learned in that class with the same critical eye that I had previously with other culture’s eating practices. The course helped me see our culture and evaluate it in a different light. It interested me that there are certain ways to act and a measure to be taken every time we eat that is almost automatic to us. Whether the setting is in a public place or an intimate place, there are unspoken rules that most of us abide by. While watching people eat at The J, a cafeteria at Humboldt State University, has really showed me how much this set of standards are carried out. One thing that has become increasingly acceptable in today’s society is the use of technology in the eating environment. When there are those times that the conversation is falling off a person can now simply pull out a cell phone and have many more options to occupy their time. They can start a new conversation via text or have music, games, and videos easily accessible. There are also a myriad of media that is available such as tv and radio.

Analysis: This past week of eating in the J has really been eye opening in a lot of ways. The amount of enculturation is clearly seen in the amount of people who are unconsciously doing the same thing. Our culture is now one that constantly needs new/different forms of stimulation. This is precisely why its now a norm to find people in a cafeteria environment multitasking with tasks like holding a conversation, watching tv, and texting all in one sitting. This pattern, however, creates a cycle. I say this because if two people are eating lunch and one person becomes deeply engaged in a phone conversation, the other one will become bored and most likely engage in a separate form of entertainment of their own.



  1. Really enjoyed the theme you went with for this blog, it is something that is commonly overlooked when in the act but vented about from many elders. Things that are okay at the table now would be considered very rude the last few generations. As you pointed out if you are at a table and the others are having a conversation you cannot relate to and contribute to all you have to do is put out you phone and you can choose someone else to converse with. At times you even get a whole table of people eating together but all texting someone else instead of conversing with each other. We don't even realize that it has become second nature to us so quickly in past 6-10years when cell phones are a commodity many Americans have. Americans don't have to rely on each other anymore for entertainment during a meal when restaurants have the game on the big screen, and cell phones with text/music/games like you said, which is an interesting culture change in our generation.
    Also how you mentioned the rules are unspoken is strong point, for when someone else comes into a meal situation and doesn't know what to do it becomes for uncomfortable at times since every seem to know what to do, but there are no instructions anywhere. Asking for guidance takes a lot of confidence that is sometimes difficult to muster. It is amazing to watch from outside perspective, everyone almost in synchronization will perform meal routine, like a dance of food customs.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your observation and I always find it interesting when entering a place such as the J, because of the mixed cultures that come from everywhere all of the world. Everyone comes from different families, cultures, and locations which means everyone has different social norms or rules that they have lived by for their life. I enjoyed how you described your experiences when you were a young child going into restaurant with a different setting then you were used to, such as the indian setting or the chinese setting. As I was growing up as child, I was extremely picky and I didn't eat a wide variety of food. When ever my family and I would go into restaurants I felt as if I was getting looked at weird or as if I was rude because I was not eating what they served or I brought different food into a restaurant.

    Your observation really describes how the generations have changed dramatically. When I was a child I remember there was a lot more rules and respect. Now in our own homes and in public places the behavior observed would not be tolerated in past generations such as kids screaming, elbows on the tables, disrespect to waiters, ect.. I enjoyed your observation and it has opened my eyes up to some new things around me.