Tea Became Dinner (2004)

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
  • Courses
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Cooking from scratch(ish)
  • Social pressure/competition
  • Hosting

In a bid to find out what this discovery means to me I have started to produce 2D works based on this name change.


Tea Vs Dinner – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/03/tea-with-grayson-perry-supper-dinner


Artists of Interest

Over recent weeks a few artists have either been recommended to me or I have come across their work through research. Writing about the work of the artists here I hope to make it explicit how their ideas/concepts/practice may be significant to my own work.

Julian Stair – Quotidian

I first saw the work in Crafts, (Gibson, 2015) issue after being given a free copy of the magazine. Stair is known for his functional ceramic ware but in Quotidian he wrestles with how contemporary craft is displayed in galleries and produces a stop motion video, shot from above, of people gathered around a table using his wares.

Initially the image is hard to read, but the extending of arms passing or gathering the wares signify the table set up for many courses. In the magazine, the stills of the video work well as a group/series of abstract works. The success of this work makes me feel that a range of stills from Man Only Dines #1 & #2  (shown below) could equally be as successful as showing the whole video. This way the work still has a life long after the moment or making experience has been achieved.


Luke Shalan – Slab Drop

This artist was recommended to me after a fellow student saw my work on tablecloths. I had started to set up table settings and cover them with porcelain.


An article on Cfile online magazine (Rodger, 2015) describes Shalan as a ‘process designer who explores the relationship between tool , material, creator/operator’ trying to discover ‘the experience of making’ (ibid). His porcelain pieces are ghostly casts of the everyday objects he comes across. Again the action is the art, the ceramic piece is the evidence.

Ian McIntyre – Jerwood Makers Open


Reflection for action:

  • art as experience
  • documenting the experience  (video/photography/ceramics)
  • functionalware as art
  • process as constraint


Ceramic use and Tablecloths

I have been caught up on notion of how ceramic tableware is used when tablecloths are present; particularly as there is a distinct lack of both ceramic and tablecloth in convenience restaurants.

The History of the Tablecloth website makes some very clear points about the tablecloths continuing importance in dining culture. Key points to take from this are :

  1. Recording of first tablecloth mentioned in c.103 AD.
  2. Used for catching spills- some tables were too ornate to be disguised by fabric.
  3. Tablecloths were used by all from Middle Ages onwards.
  4. White tablecloths were a sign of status- having enough staff to keep them clean and bright.
  5. The rich would have bespoke tablecloths to fit their grand tables.
  6. …although multi clothes were used to cover very large tables.
  7. Linen was expensive, often obtaining the stature of a family heirloom.
  8. In later centuries the tablecloth was decorated with luxury fabrics like lace and embroidery.

Having looked also at this ceramic piece from the Holburne collection for another project I am working on, I was interested to find out that the tablecloth would be removed before dessert.




Was this for cleanliness? Or an opportunity to show off your table and your linen? Does the length of the tablecloth have a historical/social significance?

As ceramics disappears from all manors of eating establishments, it is interesting that ceramic tableware and tablecloths remain united in fine dining establishments and at home. Could this link be made even more inextricable or combined even?

In a bit to understand this further I have begun to create a ceramic tablecloth – an object that could harness the decadence and practicalities of ceramics and tablecloth combined.

In order to achieve this successfully the signifiers for a tablecloth are:

  1. Folds/gatherings
  2. Creases (sometimes)
  3. Hem
  4. Draping over the surface edge

This maquette for a larger tablecloth has provided a clear insight into the practical difficulties in achieving a clay version of fabric.


  • Thickness
  • Draping/cracking
  • Crispness/ironed effect
  • Drying/firing

What’s also interesting is that the wet clay will record any human interaction. The idea of creating a raw tablecloth, using it for a dining experience and making this record permanent through firing may provide evidence into the social motions and movements of our tableware as we eat.

Are there patterns to our dining culture? Is lunch different to dinner and so on?

Update – 5 May 2016

Using a porcelain slab I wondered whether it would be possible to create a tablecloth and plate combined, uniting both functions in one.

Getting over the slump

I’ve been a bit stuck the past couple of days, unable to see truth or purpose in any of the work I have been making. In order to move on from this I’d like to summarise what I know about eating culture and what I have been able to observe and determine from my research?

  1. Convenience food is dominating lunch times.
  2. Convenience restaurants are suited to ‘on the go’ lifestyle; quick service and public (bench) seating.
  3. Convenience food is fast.
  4. Convenience food is eaten off premises.
  5. Convenience food is eaten on premises in disposable packaging.
  6. Convenience packaging is single use.
  7. Convenience food is mass produced.
  8. Convenience packaging is mass produced.


  1. Ceramics remains prevalent at home and full-service dining.
  2. Ceramics is being replaced in all other places aside from those mentioned above.
  3. Ceramics is often used with a table cloth.
  4. Ceramics is often used with slow food.
  5. Ceramics is often made for Michelin restaurants.


  1. The knife is disappearing from English eating habits.
  2. Paraphernalia is used to match the culture (chopsticks, spoon, hands, bread) when dining out.


  1. I love eating out.
  2. I love cooking.
  3. I use paraphernalia to match the cultural roots of the food (chopsticks etc) even at home.
  4. I set out a full place setting but often the knife goes unused.
  5. I cook dishes from different cultures and chefs.
  6. I’m currently interested in Yotam Ottolenghi – his food is great and his cultural capital is vast. (Gay Jew from Jerusalem, string of London restaurants, recipe books, writes for the Guardian)
  7. Cooking food from chefs I perceive to have integrity adds to my cultural capital.
  8. I tell people about recipes they should attempt.
  9. I cook nothing from Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Gary Rhodes.
  10. I have a guilty pleasure for McDonalds and KFC but cant face eating it publicly.
  11. I buy my food from Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and local independent retailers.
  12. I feel comfortable telling people I buy from the aforementioned retailers. 
  13. I’d love to be vegetarian.
  14. I can’t digest vast quantities of dairy without embarrassing myself.


I dont eat:

  1. Dairy from cows – cheese, milk, ice cream, butter.
  2. Cucumber.
  3. Black pudding.
  4. Olives.
  5. Cold cured meats like salami.
  6. Pork.

Potential ideas from this reflection on action

  • Ceramic food in disposable packaging – slip coating disposable packaging didn’t work as mentioned in the previous post. If the packaging cant be ceramic, maybe the food can. 
  • Portraits of people from what they don’t eat; highlighting the middle class obsession with dietary disorders and the  moral high ground of food origins. (Veganism, buying local, responsible products)
  • Highlighting the connection between the remaining constant link of ceramics and tablecloths. 

I’ve never been to China, so why do I use chopsticks?

In my previous post You Are What You Eat I suggested the following reasons why British people use chopsticks in place of a knife and fork:

  • Oriental meal – etiquette, the proper way.
  • Authentic – despite the challenge.
  • Demonstrates cultural awareness.
  • Social pressures- being seen to be doing the right thing.

I have spoken to a lot of people about this act recently; I wanted to get a grasp on what using chopsticks meant to a breadth of people. I asked a diverse bunch, some cosmopolitain city dwellers and some traditional types. It is no surprise that the traditional types rationalised the use of chopsticks as simply showing off,  pretentious even; however, interestingly so did a few of my more cosmopolitan chums – people who I’ve seen use chopsticks. Theirs wasn’t such a blunt offering of pretentiousness, but more discreetly suggested as showing that you know about other cultures, or demonstrating more cultural awareness than one actually possesses.

So for some the simple reasoning that as a non native culinary tool, chopsticks are rationalised as being more difficult to use and therefore the drive to use them is more than simply getting food from plate to mouth.

It seems that the drive to use chopsticks instead of a knife and fork is driven more by social standing than it is about getting food to your mouth. Therefore the chopstick is a tool loaded with potential cultural gold. Being able to use chopsticks says so much more than simply demonstrating your ability to transfer food.


From top to bottom: Taiwanese melamine chopsticks, Chinese porcelain chopsticks, Tibetan bamboo chopsticks, Vietnamese palmwood chopsticks, Korean stainless flat chopsticks with matching spoon, Japanese couple’s set (two pairs), Japanese child’s chopsticks, and disposable “waribashi” (in wrapper)

Interestingly, most of the people I asked have never visited China or any other Asian culture. Likewise, I have never been to Asia so there has been no real need to have ever learned how to use chopsticks; and yet I have.

Learning to operate a tool which is much more difficult than ones native culinary tools carries with it some kudos and if you’ve learnt how to use chopsticks then you must have had a lot of experience with oriental food. These are all the subliminal messages carried by ones proficiency when using chopsticks.

Artistically, I am interested by this notion of different lengths of chopstick. In Britain more kudos and value would be given to being able to master the bigger, longer tool. What if the length of the chopstick demonstrated ones cultural understanding? The bigger the better? 


Man Only Dines #1

Mrs Beeton once said that all creatures eat but ‘man only dines’. In a bit to explore the ability to transition between different social tribes by understanding cultural expectations I have produced a video piece.

Using the chopstick as a marker for a pre-existing social transition, the video documents the (clumsily and sometimes repulsive) eating of a Big Mac – two bookends for my diet; from uncultured teenager to culturally aware adult.

This video is the start of an experiential learning process and is not demonstrative of a final polished piece.

MOD screen shots


Extrinsic Fear of the Table

Eating together was a huge part of my family’s social interaction. However, there were rules…which were particularly  enforced by my fear-inducing Granddad.

Whenever I think back over big family social occasions when I was young all I can remember is crying at some point during a meal. I was a fussy eater and clearly worried by a lack of nutrition, my parents began to encourage me to eat different vegetables. This would always bring about a physical rejection of said item, which inevitably led to strong words, disappointment and a distraught me.

My Granddad’s strict table etiquette was suffered by all. A more relaxed dining approach was clearly in play during the 1990’s…my parents talked to their children during dinner. But my Granddad didn’t accept this notion willingly. On many occasion – lunch and dinner on a Sunday – one of us grandchildren would have done the wrong thing. My Grandfather had such a presence that a simple look could make us crumble…and usually did.

And so began my fear of the table. By the time I was twelve all I would eat during a Sunday roast was potato and chicken. I had entered a spiral of anxiety lacking self confidence to try different foods. I realise now that it was making different friends (from different backgrounds) between the ages of seventeen to twenty-one that really altered my attitude to trying different food. A change in culture, experiencing different places replaced fear with excitement. And now I have a literal hunger to try different dishes.