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, which preferred quantity over quality, and heterogeneity over harmony. He felt this eating showed vestiges of the public feasting that originated in primitive times.
The article contrasted to 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 the statement that Boston baked beans was a “cisAtlantic” variation of British pork and pease.
But more than 120 years have passed since then. Our societies have changed considerably, in Britain no less. Is the Times’ view, forged in the heyday of the Protestant ethic and imperial mindset, still accurat
Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Graham Kerr were just some of many notable food writers or personalities who tried to amend the disposition noted, in North America or Britain.
Since their time countless restaurateurs and chefs, of diverse backgrounds, cooking in different traditions or creating their own, have made their own contribution, in countries largely founded by British settlers.
World cuisine is in these places today a datum, unknown in Gilded Era New York.
Have things really changed though? Is, say, McDonald’s and its many progeny simply the latest form of the old public feasting? Does the new cooking really cut it, in a way that changed the culture?
Or was the point exaggerated to being with? Apt subjects for debate, surely.*
*No one can, or should in my opinion, deny the merits of many traditional British, and American, dishes, but I think the NYT writer was making a broader point, about the culture of eating in different societies.