“Dinner’s ready!” refers to many things, not only the literal. Foremostly, somebody readied the food, possibly with love and at least with some effort. When there’s at least two dining, there’s a good chance that a moderate level of discussion is expected: be polite, be loving, assume the inconvenience of tension or awkwardness. Food brings us together and tears us apart, most likely during Thanksgiving. These days, ordering is a lot more common than it used to be. Here’s how things were done in days past.
The first dinner
Cave paintings and archaeological findings only tell us so much, so it’s not really clear how our ancestors actually dined. What we do know is that humans learned to make fire about 300-400 thousand years ago. It’s probably likely that around the same time somebody growled, “grubs up guys”.
Our oldest ancestors lived in small, family-esque groups, so it’s totally likely that they shared eating times. Neanderthals add a dark twist to family dinner as we now know it, however – they tended to eat each other. We’ve all suffered from hanger pains.
Dining with the right people
The contents of your plate naturally represents your position in society. Let’s compare the plates of royalty with the standard class in ancient Egypt. The less fortunate ate onions and grain, while the wealthy feasted on fresh fish from the Nile, figs and wine. Maybe a honey cake for desserts for good measure. The best menus in Egypt were served to the priests. But here’s a catch: their meals were ritual-esque sermons. The same every day, which might start to taste a tad boring after a while.
Power networking has always been an aspect part of dining. In ancient Greece, mandatory dinners for specific groups segregated society, for army buddies, religious groups or genders. Symposiums, as these dinners were called, were held in the men’s quarters of the household seemed to be more like a ‘gathering of drinkers’, which sounds pretty sweet. The first part of symposiums was for dining and the second for drinking – and boy did they know how to party. A couple of board games to break the ice, maybe some poems, usually some acrobats thrown is? Puking after eating and drinking was totally acceptable too.
Table manners, please
During the late Roman empire, dinner parties were opened up to women and began to resemble something a little closer to dinner parties of today — a bunch of friends hanging out in dorms with servants making the meals. Few things seemed to differ from today. Firstly, the perfect size of a dinner party was 9. Damn right. Secondly, the order of seating in the room showed who the hosts favoured and who they liked the least. You’re lying if you deny doing this.
The dining table is still the place to teach kids basic manners. Once upon a time, those lessons were important only to royalty. Picture Kings and Queens during the Middle ages eating in their private chambers and teaching their heir the basics of cutlery etiquette. In lower social classes, manners didn’t equate to friendly chat during dinner but rather respecting the head of the family. In 1700, USA farming families participated in the production of food and the family dined together, but only the father was allowed to sit at the head of the table, a formality that might still be adhered today.
When people started to work in factories and offices more commonly, a meal in the middle of the day became a necessity, and soon after one-hour breaks were mandatory. Workplace cantinas became more popular in the 1930s – optimizing food during war time was essential.
Lunch didn’t keep the hunger away for the rest of the day, but it postponed the dinner until later in the evening. As people migrated from the countryside to cities, it became rarer for families to work together on a farm or small family business. There was a need to unite the family again. Victorian and Early Elizabethan England put a strong emphasis on family dinners and teaching kids good manners.
Gender in equality in the 1950s was certainly nothing to be proud of, considering the time period really delivered a step back for women. The responsibility of mealtime – and keeping the family together – fully fell into the arms of the woman. The wife served the dishes and the husband carved the meat. It’s worth querying, how far has society come from this?
As Instagram generation will be aware, cooking and fancy meals can easily be a competition of the most presentable lifestyle – that’s nothing new. Cooking TV shows in the 1960s encouraged women to cook more, cook better and cook more adventurously. Maintaining appearances might have been exhausting, but technical development started to limit the chat during dinners. This was the time for TV-dinners. Gather around, kids, the magic box feeds us now.
This consequented the fast development in prepared foods but didn’t detract from the appreciation of homemade meals.
Dinners of the future?
To sum up – we enjoy eating together. Thousands of years of awkward work-related dinners, boozy meals with friends, warm and cold family dinners. Nothing has really changed — apart from the variety in what we are able to prepare/ order for dinner. These days, millennials tend to rate ordering over cooking on a whole.
We’ve allowed professionals to give us easier and tastier experiences — and that’s no bad thing. Eating habits have come full circle – we continue the 1960s tradition of eating alone with our best pal Netflix, or we invite a bunch of friends or a flashy tinder date to an Instagram-worthy brunch (preferably following these guidelines). Both wonderful indulgences.
A plethora of sci-fi tales carve the way for nutrient pills as meal replacements… and it’s not really too far fetched as a vision for the future. Whatever lies ahead on the dinner table of the future, history teaches us that we might be preparing to eat those tiny pills together in our space ship dining area, but we’ll be doing so in the company of others.