“After you set the table with your best efforts, let your real pleasure come from looking around the table before breaking bread together and appreciating the similarities in your guests rather than the differences.”
—Maya Angelou, 2011
Breaking bread, banquets, or potlucks—however and wherever we enjoy the delightful experience of sharing a meal, we can tell our stories, cross cultural boundaries, and begin to learn each other’s histories.
The holidays especially give us the opportunity to gather for food and talk, so important when it feels like we live in a time rife with incivility and torn by divisiveness.
Student Hula dancers performing at the Crimson Table Event (Photo Robert Hubner)
American poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who passed away in 2014, had a deep fondness for cooking and sharing meals, even publishing a cookbook memoir. “There are very few times we can be more intimate as to share food together,” Angelou told National Public Radio’s Don Gonyea in 2010.
In Angelou’s gracious spirit of hospitality, the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center at Washington State University offers not just a place to learn about African-American, Latino/a, Asian-American, Native, Pacific Islander, and other cultures, but also a welcoming place to dine together.
“Food is a wonderful catalyst for building community and honoring differences, and there is no better place to facilitate these kind of connections than inside the Cultural Center,” says Mary Jo Gonzales ’95 MA, ’01 PhD, WSU vice president of student affairs.
EVENTS LIKE THE CRIMSON TABLE, pictured here, use the commercial and demonstration kitchen in the Cultural Center to showcase foods from across cultural and ethnic groups. But it’s about more than just delicious cuisine; choosing to sit together and dine can be the first step to necessary discussions on race, ethnicity, and culture.
“Meals provide a landscape from which to explore all manners of cultural and economic dilemmas,” wrote sociologist Alice Julier in Eating Together. “Decisions about whom we eat with, in what manner, and what kinds of food are inextricably tied to social boundaries.”
Studies have shown practical benefits to eating together, from problem-solving to work relationships. It’s also proven to build trust and cooperation.
Most of all, it’s a shared human experience, as chef and philanthropist Aarón Sánchez wrote, “Coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in almost every place in the world. Being able to make a dish and share that with the people you love is one of the most universal concepts because it’s at the root of our survival.”
Here is a sampling of menu items served at the Crimson Table Event: