The famous Victorian, Mrs Beeton once said ‘creatures of inferior races eat and drink; man only dines’. Though wildly politically incorrect in a contemporary setting, there is some truth to this statement; Id prefer to say that all creatures great and small do eat, but the human race alone has the potential to dine.
This got me to thinking about what is dining really, how is it signified and separated from eating? What rituals, values and particularly objects must be present for a dining experience to have occurred?
I started to compile a list.
- Solo action (for most)
- Candle light
- Courses- starter/main/dessert
- Dim lighting
- And suggested by Mrs Beeton, ‘order’ and ‘graces’.
When I think of dining I imagine subdued lighting and candles. This seems to epitomise the idea of dinner as an occasion, rather than simply providing nourishment. Imagine the scene below with bright light and no candles…somewhere to eat, or somewhere to dine?
So if I define dinner as eating at a table with candlelight, how many people in the UK dine? How many don’t dine? As a youth we always ate at the table, apart from Saturday evenings where we ate from our laps or from the nest of tables. I recall my mum’s decadent silver plate candelabra being used only once and never for a family meal.
The following articles provide info about the rise of TV dinners in the UK and the demise of the family unit where a lack of eating together occurs.
According to a poll in 2013, 60% of families rely on ready meals and 49% of families eat their evening meal at the dinner table everyday. With these statistics in mind, perhaps the modern day dining table looks like this:
Imagine that tray with a candlestick…is that dining?