Putting the Spirit Back Around the Table

by Sue Zelickson, Tastemaker in Residence

What thoughts go through your mind when you think about the Spirited Table in 2014?  How many families sit down to a home cooked family dinner each night in these busy hectic times? It would be an interesting survey to conduct. 

Common place practices when I grew up in the '40's and '50's provide the missing link to family time. The dinner table was set properly with dinner plates, having  forks on the left with the salad forks on the out side and knives and spoons on the right of the plate with the beverage glass on the right as well. Napkins were folded and placed on the left side of the plate.

We ate family style. That meant the food was passed after we were seated, not plated individually. We always waited until my Father came home to have dinner so we all ate together, when we could. No one was standing at the refrigerator (icebox) or the kitchen sink, eating on the run or in the car on the way to a lesson or a sports event.  

Dinnertime was a sacred, treasured time, to catch up on the days activities, share thoughts, successes, worries and plans. Favorite meals were made for special occasions with specific recipes. Traditions and memories were formed. It was a treat to invite a friend or another family over to share dinner at the table.

Good manners were important and taught at the table. Napkins were in your lap - you were taught which fork and spoon to use and how to cut your food - you were not allowed to play with your food - you never talked with your mouth full - you chewed with your mouth closed. You asked for food to be passed with a please and thank you and never reached across the table to get more food; that was called the boarding house reach.   

It is amazing to discover that so many kids grow up these days without any knowledge of the things we took for granted, the enjoyment and most importantly the experiences of sharing family dinners and learning that the essentials of good manners provide a better journey through life. 

In my dealings with children from all parts of the city, over the years, one incident stands out to explain this so clearly...

After a manners class, that we taught at one of the “Kids Cafes,” a young woman came up and ask if she could have a private lesson from the instructor. She explained she was about to begin her job interviews and wanted to know how to act and eat properly, as well as learning to use the proper utensils and more; just in case she happened to be dining out during these applications and interviews.  

She had never learned these things at home...