Gathering around the kitchen table 

By Barbara Black

Where you eat definitely influences what you eat. That’s the idea behind Domestic Foodscapes, an interdisciplinary discussion that will take place at Concordia this weekend.

Rhona Richman Kenneally (Design and Computation Arts) and Jordan LeBel, an associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, asked 53 of his undergraduate students to describe and draw the kitchen of their childhood. The results suggest that the traditional family dinner, with everyone together, conversing amiably and uninterrupted by the television, was a key memory for about half the students. In fact, those with the most vivid recollections are more likely to enjoy food and cooking now, in adulthood.

Richman Kenneally and LeBel, who is a member of Concordia’s Marketing Department, organized Domestic Foodscapes, a workshop bring together scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines. They’re keeping it closed and low-key to maximize fruitful exchanges among the invited researchers.

Among them are several Concordians, notably anthropologist David Howes, who feels that wine-tasting is far too centred on the palate to the detriment of our other senses, and historian Alan Nash, who will present a paper called “Let’s Eat Out Tonight: The Impact of Restaurant Delivery on Montreal’s Domestic Foodscapes, 1951-2001.” Other Concordians presenting their work or attending are Jessica Mudry (General Studies), Christine Jourdan (Sociology & Anthropology) and Bianca Grohmann (JMSB).

Diane Bisson, of the Université de Montréal, has studied how the eating environment can be made more encouraging for children who are in the hospital for a long period and have lost their appetite. Yet another traced the peculiar history of margarine, finding that the uncertainty over how this “constructed food product” should be classified has influenced how it is regulated and consumed.

Laurette Dubé, of McGill, studied the dining patterns of a representative group of women, comparing their meals eaten at home with those eaten elsewhere. The results suggest that the meals eaten at home were more nutritious, smaller, and more satisfying. Other studies looked at how young low-income women are prone to use cheap, widely available prepared foods, and the ways Quebec children eat their meals.

One study is titled “Things Taste Better in Small Houses.” In it, Alice Julier, of the University of Pittsburgh, looks at how we give dinner parties, barbecues and potlucks, and the relationship between domestic hospitality and the built environment of the household.

This is a subject that excites architect Richman Kenneally, who spent three years designing and saving for the reconstruction of her own kitchen so that it would be the warm, intimate, yet efficient heart of her family’s domestic life.

She’s a proponent of what she calls “mindful eating.” It’s the opposite of the careless grazing that seems to characterize the modern eating day — grabbing a bag of chips, swigging a soft drink, popping a pathetic imitation of gourmet cuisine into the microwave and eating it standing up. A reaction against these lazy habits is building, with the increasing popularity of 100-mile (i.e., locally produced) dinners, the French concept of terroir (taste of place), and the Slow Food Movement.

Richman Kenneally talks with scorn about the magazines and TV shows that show such abominations as the freestanding kitchen sink — something that could not have been designed by anyone who ever washed a carrot or a dish. In fact, her recent observation of lavish new homes suggests that in many cases, their owners must rarely use their kitchens, so pristine and impractical are their design.

“Equally important are our own daily rituals. With minor tweaking, our environment can help us become more mindful of our food, rather than treating it as fuel-on-the-go,” Richman Kenneally said.

LeBel has a suggestion. “Take two seconds to smell your food deeply at the beginning of each meal. Two seconds — that’s all it takes.”

Domestic Foodscapes is by invitation only, but you can reach the organizers at


Concordia University