When I was younger our evening meal was always called Tea. We ate tea as a family when Dad got in from work and always, always before 6pm; around the time Neighbours was scheduled on BBC1 (approx 5.30pm). The Neighbours theme tune was comparable to creating a Pavlov’s Dogs situation back then. I remember anticipating spaghetti bolognaise, made from a Shepard’s pie recipe (always made with beef mince AND baked beans), served on top of pasta, or on top of rice. Growing up on a farm we had a lot of meat, veg and gravy meals, alongside fish fingers, chips and beans, and all the equivalents. Every meal was served with sliced white bread and butter; a routine I harbored until I left the Isle of Wight and went to University.
All my family ate tea, all my friends ate tea. The only time I ate dinner was on a Sunday, at lunch time. But now in my adult life, I refer to the evening meal as dinner and have done so for a long time.
So what changed? What specifically brought about the decision in me to change the name of the evening meal from tea to dinner? Is one better than the other? Does one have more social clout than the other?
I left the Isle of Wight in 2002 to study an art Foundation course in Bournemouth. Living with four others from the Island and thinking about the types of food we were eating back then, there wasn’t much difference from the food I had been eating at home. Of course I met people from far flung corners of the UK and abroad widening my experiences (at this point I still didn’t know what an avocado was), but a similar home life to that of the Isle of Wight and similar foods being eaten meant that I was definitely still eating tea at this point.
I know that by the time I ended my degree I was eating dinner. During the first year of my degree I started to cook the evening meal with a friend. This period not only improved my cooking skills, but the shared experience widened my horizons of the foods I could cook at home; namely food from other cultures- mostly Italian, Chinese and Indian.
The most significant change happened during my second year. As usual a group of us from halls found a shared house together, somewhere removed of the parental reach found in university managed accommodation. At this point I ate humous for the first time and I started using herbs and creating meals from scratch(ish), not just using jars of sauces. We continued to share the cooking regularly and the competitive pressure mounted to create more exciting, boundary pushing meals than the previous cook.
I was invited out for food and I hosted friends, people who I didn’t live with. Time pressures meant that we wold eat later into the evening 7-8.30pm – quite a significant change from the traditional 5.30pm slot. Alcohol, namely wine, would be taken alongside the meal and there may occasionally be a starter or dessert, but rarely both.
It is important to mention here that I studied in a very small country town, one without a cinema even and the lack of entertainment forced us students to create our own – and a part of this was cooking and eating.
I started to visit the Island less often and Island friends would tell me that I’d changed. And I was changing. I’d allowed myself to broaden my experiences which subsequently informed my decisions in a whole new manor of ways. The language I used altered, cultivated from my course no doubt, but also through social connections. My accent softened.
The education I was receiving and my social situation was dramatically altering my outlook on life, my values and even my taste. I may have been in debt at this point but my cultural capital was in a metaphorical Swiss bank account. Looking back, I recognise this as a time when I thought that my future could have a brighter outlook than I’d previously been encouraged to consider.
Despite the fact that my awareness of my growing cultural capital may have enabled me to simply change the noun I used for the evening meal, which other factors distinguished dinner from tea?
- Time of the meal
- Range of foods
- Drinking alcohol
- Cooking from scratch(ish)
- Social pressure/competition
In a bid to find out what this discovery means to me I have started to produce 2D works based on this name change.