A lengthy article of some sophistication and humour published in the New York Times in 1895 made a bold claim:
…to take a serious view of eating is commonly considered in all Anglo-Saxon communities as the mark of a frivolous, if not depraved, mind.
The writer claimed refined eating was a foreign notion in these communities, who preferred quantity over quality, and heterogeneity over harmony. He felt this eating showed vestiges of public feasting that originated in primitive times.
The article contrasted with crude Anglo-Saxon dining, the careful delineation of national cuisines in France: bourgeois, peasant, haute, with further refinements foreign to Anglo-Saxon palates.
The American barbeque was labeled a descendant of old English public entertainments. A good observation, I think, as was the statement Boston baked beans is a “cisAtlantic” variation of British pork and pease.
But more than 120 years have passed since then. Our societies have changed considerably, even in Britain. Is the Times’ view, forged in the heyday of the Protestant ethic and imperial mindset, still accurate?
Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Graham Kerr, among many notable food writers, have tried to amend the disposition noted, both in North America and Britain.
Countless restaurateurs and chefs, of diverse backgrounds, have made their contribution, in countries largely founded by British settlers. World cuisine is today a datum, unknown in Gilded Era New York.
Have things really changed though? Is, say, McDonald’s and its many progeny just the latest form of the old public feasting? Does all the new cooking really cut it?
An apt subject for debate, surely.*
*No one can, or should in our opinion, deny the merits of many fine individual British dishes, or foods derived from that tradition, but the NYT writer was making a different point, about the culture of eating including restaurants.