November 24, 2010
Students in Pam Frese's First-Year Seminar, "Food and Culture," expressed sentiments about their most memorable meal(s), both verbally through a narrative and visually through a symbolic place setting.
WOOSTER, Ohio — There’s no place like home for the holidays, especially at meal time when families gather for fresh roasted turkey, piping hot rolls, gently seasoned dressing, homemade pumpkin pie, and an assortment of other items that evoke memories of days gone by and loved ones who have passed on.
Students in Pam Frese’s First-Year Seminar, “Food and Culture,” recently reflected on such memories as part of an assignment in the course based on Kalymnos Sutton’s book, Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. Their responses were to include a list of the items on the menu; those who shared the meal with them; those who prepared the meal; the colors, sights and sounds associated with the meal; family rituals associated with the meal; and three words that come to mind when they think of that meal. They were also asked to create a place setting to represent that meal, which would be placed on a dinner table in the Makenzie Gallery of Ebert Art Center to represent all of the students in the class.
“Food is one of the most important cultural markers of identity in contemporary societies,” said Frese, professor of sociology and anthropology at Wooster. “It has provided a medium for the understanding of social relations, family and kinship, class and consumption, gender ideology, and cultural symbolism.”
The seminar explored the practical dimensions and ramifications of food production, consumption, and sharing, and the symbolic and ideological meanings attached to food cross culturally and in American society. “Food is a communal feast,” said Frese. “It unifies people. That’s why there is food at ceremonies. Food represents an essential part of human life.”
Students embraced the assignment and poured themselves into it. Rebecca Cinquino of Rochester, N.Y., wrote about the value of the Thanksgiving feast. “(It) is a very important meal to me because it not only allows me to reunite and bond with my family over homemade food, but cooking also gives me insight into the recipes of my relatives I never had the chance to meet,” she said. “Most importantly, cooking similar foods each year allows me to reflect on my past memories and form new memories. Each member of my family has a distinct role in the (celebration), whether it be cracking jokes or bringing his/her specialty dish.
“Thanksgiving provides an occasion where my whole family can be reunited,” added Cinquino. “I demonstrated my love for my family by making a collage of all their faces on my plate. I put their faces on the plate because most of our socializing occurs during the meal, and without this holiday and all our favorite Thanksgiving recipes, I would not get to see everyone all together.”
Ericka Rickey of Creston, Ohio, reflected on the Christmas meal. “Food is very important to my family, especially to my grandmother because it, like nothing else, has the power to bring everyone together and gives us all something in common to share,” she wrote in her paper. “Once a year for Christmas, she loves to painstakingly fold up dozens of cabbage rolls, carefully preparing each individual cabbage leaf while simultaneously making the stuffing out of pounds of ground beef and rice and her own special blend of spices.”
For her place setting, Rickey represented her grandmother with a placemat that was a bright blue (and) looked like something she would buy for her house if she used placemats. “She is a bright and vibrant person, full of life and vitality and young at heart," she said. "I wanted the placemat to reflect that." She also included a picture of her grandmother because she is the central figure around which the meal is possible.
“This Christmas meal allows my family and I to break away from the idea that meals are not a big deal and reminds us that eating is not just about filling our stomachs,” added Rickey. “Eating is also about making memories and enjoying good food with those you love.”
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