Friday, March 07, 2014

Meals, dinner parties, social patterns and the need for change

Growing up, we had breakfast, morning tea, lunch or dinner, afternoon tea, tea or dinner, then often supper. In all this mix, the variables were lunch, tea and dinner. Dinner was the main meal, a more ceremonial affair. If held in the middle of the day, it replaced lunch. If held at night, it replaced tea. 

Generally, dinner was the evening meal. However, on some days like Christmas, or more frequently Sunday, it took place in the middle of the day. How can you describe a full roast as Sunday lunch? It does not compute!

I mention this now because Asya Pereltsvaig had a rather nice post on GeoCurrents, “Mustard After Dinner”, Or Are Spain’s Mealtimes Climate-Related?. Her conclusion is no, the pattern of our meals and what we call them has changed over time and between countries. One of the most interesting features is the shift in times of meals.

In Australia, I think that the structure of meals is climate related as well as time related. Climate related because the Australian heat is not conducive to bigger meals in the middle of the day for those working out of doors. Time related because we simply don't have a lot of time in the middle of the day.

The time thing goes further than that. The word dinner has been dropping out of use.We just don't have time for it. Few come home for lunch (or midday dinner) anymore, Few actually have time for dinner in the old sense at night. Tired, most sag in front of the TV set.

The old idea of the dinner party is largely dead. When was the last time you went to one?

Central to a dinner party is the idea of multiple courses spread over a period of time when people actually have to talk to each other. That's the main entertainment. Who has time for that anymore?

We eat out a lot, but we call this going to a restaurant, not generally going out for dinner. Someone else is doing and serving,

I miss the old dinner party. Restaurants are often noisy, the food is so so, and they are not set up for conversation at group level. I actually miss dinner, full stop.

This will be my last post until Sunday, for I am travelling again. This time I am trying to organise a lunch when I get there. I haven't called it dinner, for dinner is dead. Its also at a restaurant. Here I have no choice. But I am trying to make it a little ceremonial in the way dinner parties once were, a little special.

Are we better off with more things as compared to enjoying the things that we have? I wonder. What's the point of working harder and harder just to survive, just so that we can buy things? This is the reason why I have so many problems with modern economic and policy analysis. I just don't want to play anymore.

The reaction to these changes in the structure of our society, the way we work, has manifested itself in many ways, from slow food to buy local produce and farmers' markets. These are all signs of people saying that they don't want to play any more, that they want an alternative.

Life is for living, not just the accumulation of brownie points in a never ending zero sum game.

We are very lucky, for most of those in Western countries have access to basic services and wealth in a way never seen before. Yet is that all  we want?

I am not a leftie or a green radical. I just think that we need a different model.


Evan said...

Well Jim, this might induce some cognitive dissonance for you. It sounds like you are a leftie and radical - circa 1960's-70's when we were advocating leisure (rather than the corporates taking the wealth and people having to work harder).

Many of us don't want to play anymore. The Australia Institutes study of downshifting showed the numbers were huge. Regrettably this is simply ignored by our politics.

I think we are witnessing the birth of the religion of work. Some of our public discussion seems to be based on the idea that people should be judged by their work; my view is that we live to work we don't work to live. (A PM lamenting good conditions for workers is extraordinary I think).

Anonymous said...

I still do Swedish Lamb, and although the dinner parties are less frequent, they still tend to go to the wee small hours. BTW, why didn't you make Steel Mags? My long lost cousin from Wollongong did.

Jim Belshaw said...

Cognitive dissonance is right, Evan.How can you accuse me of being a leftie and a radical?! There is actually a story here involving my grandfather, himself hardly a leftie, that I should bring up in a main post.

You see, you don;t have to be a leftie to have radical views, nor are all radicals on the left. Today, sadly, most are on the right!

Jim Belshaw said...

I knew that you still did SW from an earlier post, JC. I do promise to come to one of your shows, especially now that I am travelling more. Still, it was calendar girls that most attracted me. Just curious!

Evan said...

Under Howard I discovered I was more a Burkeyan conservative than a subscriber to the 'new labor' neo-liberal worldview.

Your not the only one to experience cognitive dissonance.

I think the neo-cons have probably made the word 'conservative' not much in describing a political position any more.

And the big questions I think are about ecology and society - with all the big questions about the place of humans and individuals in relation to 'nature'. The old left and right I think made sense in terms of industrialism but not when confronting our ecological crisis (which, if it is addressed, look like being addressed by business rather than government - more cognitive dissonance for me).

Jim Belshaw said...

I begin to suspect, Evan, that just about everybody suffers from some form of cognitive dissonance!

The word conservative is still useful. It just doesn't apply to the neo-liberals, whoever they may be.

I actually agree with you on ecology and society, although some of my views here might make you shudder!

Rummuser said...

I would go back to Epicurus! Shall send you an article by mail.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Ramana. Received!