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How Dinner Is Served Across The U.S.

TV trays, pizza boxes, and hungry stares: The archetype of the American family having dinner together is dead.

Photographer Lois Bielefeld has made a habit of inviting herself over to strangers’ homes for dinner. Fascinated with how people make common rituals their own, Bielefeld decided to explore what a typical weeknight dinner was like for close to 80 individuals and families.

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Weeknight Dinners, a series she shot mostly between 2014 and 2015, brought Bielefeld into the homes of everyday people–some friends, some she knew from previous photography projects, and some she found through posting calls for subjects–to see what dinner was like on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, nights of the week that aren’t usually special.

Wednesday: Leo and Michael. 2014. [Photo: Lois Bielefeld]
“There is something deeply rooted in the American psyche regarding dinner time,” she tells Co.Design. “In my personal experience, it stems back to television shows such as Leave it to Beaver, which curated this idealized notion that we still cling to. ”

Bielefeld instructed people not to do anything out of the ordinary when she came over and got to work photographing how they prepared (or ordered or reheated) their meals, what they ate, and what the dynamics were. Some sat at the kitchen table to eat, some ate in formal dining rooms, and many plopped in front of the television. There was take-out, delivery, and home-cooked meals. Some folks didn’t fuss with serving ware and brought their pots straight to the table; some ate out of the Tupperware their leftovers were reheated in.

Tuesday: Seynabou, Rui James and Marie. 2014. [Photo: Lois Bielefeld]
“The archetype or projected ideal associated with dinner is families eating at the table–everyone eats at the same time and eats the same food,” Bielefeld tells Co.Design. “This was rarely the case during my portraits. Some families would picnic on the floor every night while another gentleman always stands at the countertop, reads the newspaper, and looks out the window on the street while he eats. Other families ate in different parts of the home and all prepared their own quick meal. I observed this quite often–people would eat together but eat different things.”

But surely, everyone was full after. See selections of the series in the slideshow above and find Bielefeld’s work at the Portrait Society Gallery.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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