In her Beyond Fate (Massey Lectures) (CBC Massey Lecture ) (15-16) , the always-stimulating Margaret Visser describes the cultural achievement of making a “place” at table.
For us Westerners, “Each diner sits on an upright, separate chair drawn up to a table on which is laid his or her ‘place.’ This is an area bounded by metal slicing, piercing, dipping, and digging instruments, or cutlery; the knife, the fork, the spoon, and sometimes more than one of each. The plate with food on it is round – an unbroken ring, holding the diner’s portion. We also speak of a person’s lot or fate as his or her ‘portion’ in life.”
We don’t grab food from another’s plate, nor eat from a common bowl. Visser sees in this “the embodiment of that image of ourselves as bounded areas.” At the table “we were slowly becoming more and more individualistic.”