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Pandemic kitchens in a digital age: an anthropological study of commensality

Farrell, Mary Bernardine (2023) Pandemic kitchens in a digital age: an anthropological study of commensality. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102782) (KAR id:102782)


Cooking and eating together provides an immersive opportunity to share and develop food knowledge. In a public place the activities of making and eating food together are socially endorsed as a learning opportunity which communicates meanings, values, and identities...' as part of the skills, techniques, and practices of a meal (Williams-Forson and Counihan, 2012, 4). My research interest of social first hand learning was situated in the touristic - or leisure - experiential 'lessons' adopted by freelance food professionals of varying skillsets and food cultures. My participants illustrated this type of informal culinary education with their individualized mix of culinary and educational skills and qualifications. Their precarious work was founded on the ability to market - through various online platforms such as Instagram or Airbnb - in-person experiential offers to paying 'students' looking to submerge themselves in social and multi-sensory learning.

However, my participants established in-person work was abruptly and uniquely prohibited when virus mitigation restrictions of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (2020-2022) made public social activity illegal. Forced out from physical fieldwork I examined how and what happened in a mass transition from in-person to online social learning through the impact this had on my

focus group of freelance food professionals and their online students. My ethnography was framed by compounding elements of the pandemic restrictions, which created an environment of physical isolation with extensive use of the internet to accelerate the a-material interactional

practices of culinary education. So, my eleven diverse chef-educator participants spent the pandemic forging previously untried types of online social learning interaction, and their enforced transformation allowed me to observe and analyse the nascent online qualities of reimagining the shared physicality of social and multi-sensory immersive learning. My thesis discusses the challenges and opportunities for culinary education in the digital age, with a proposition that anthropologists, educators, and computer engineers work closely together for a more human-centric food future.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Theodossopoulous, Dimitrios
Thesis advisor: Waldstein, Anna
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102782
Uncontrolled keywords: bio-digital ethnography, internetworked, a-material and material, commensality, loneliness, sensorium
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2023 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2023 11:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Farrell, Mary Bernardine.

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