You are when you eat

By Martin Zibauer »Martin Zibauer

October 5th, 2011

1 comment

Those who advocate for three defined meals a day say it’s better for family cohesion, conversational skills, and nutrition, and may explain why the French are thin (they don’t snack). Everyone sitting down for a big breakfast, light lunch, and main meal at the same time, same place–it’s traditional. Or is it? Yale University history professor Paul Freedman, quoted in a blog post by Anneli Rufus on, says that the pattern is a modern construct:

For most of history, meals were very variable. A medieval northern European peasant “would start his morning with ale or bread or both, then bring some sort of food out into the fields and have a large meal sometime in the afternoon,” Freedman says. “He might have what he called ‘dinner’ at 2 in the afternoon or 6 in the evening, or later” — depending on his work, the season and other factors.

A set dinner time is a luxury. When electric lights were still new and expensive, Freedman says “one mark of being rich became how late you ate. Eating way after dark because you could afford electric lights was a mark of high status, urbanity and class.”

Even as electricity became common, and the middle class standardized their workdays and mealtimes, the rich continued to eat late, because they could. I’ve always loved the outrageous aspirational notions of the Two Fat Ladies, whose cookbooks include dishes (kedgeree is one; my version here) to whip up at midnight when your swellegant friends come over after the theatre. How many of the Ladies’ viewers and readers, realistically, have that cooking conundrum? Almost none. The only other people who eat so late are the club kids. Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I went for a 4 a.m. greasy breakfast at Fran’s Diner.

But these two extremes–eating like the medieval peasant while it’s still light out, and eating a quick, late meal like the idle rich–may seem familiar to one group. It’s what cottagers do. Jackie Davis doesn’t often eat very late at her off-grid cottage: “We go to bed early because once it’s dark, there’s kind of nothing to do.” The Two Fat Ladies’ after-theatre suppers, silly as they are, actually inspired an idea for a Cottage Life recipe feature, developed by Monda Rosenberg: the late-Friday-night-after-traffic meal.

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Jackie Davis


Oct. 5, 2011

6:20 pm

Ha, at my cottage, when we try to eat when it's dark, people are holding candles close to their plates, like, "What is this? What am I eating? Something just moved!!"

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