I have to figure that umpty-‘leven sociologists have studied this, but I only hear from the nutritionists and diet-mongers. We don’t eat the same way that we did fifty years ago. Everyone is aware that there is much less of family dinner, but that is only the beginning. We did not consistently eat our other two meals together when I was a lad, but still, much more so than now. Breakfast may not have commenced at the same time for everyone, but it was a sit-down meal that overlapped, with some expectation that you would share the meal with as many household members as you could. On weekends, Saturday lunch was taken together, or Sunday supper after Sunday dinner. This was especially true in the wealthier stepfamily I was brought into later, and in that neighborhood and culture.
High intentionality was more general as one went up the economic scale, I think, and eating was very much a part of this. For that reason, snacking was much rarer. I recall few snacks at school beyond the midmorning $.04 milk ($.07 for chocolate milk) and the few specific parties. I think only Christmas and Valentine’s Day included food. Even in high school, there were no vending machines and no eating except in the cafeteria. Any snacking was done surreptitiously.
Coming home and grabbing a snack was unheard of. Your mother might offer something, if it were left over from some event of the day, such as her mother and aunts coming over to visit. At about 7 years old, my brother went to another kid’s house after school – already a forbidden act – and the other boy made toast for him. Which he ate. We didn’t tell Mom, because such things would “spoil your dinner.” This was at a tenement apartment on the next block, and I recall even now the sense that this was a degraded family, which did not supervise its children, who might do…well, anything. Even make toast in the oven.
I don’t know about fifty years ago, but even thirty years ago, people didn’t have group snacks at work. Even twenty years…hmm. I don’t recall the elaborate organised eating we have now at work. I work in an environment that well more than 50% female, remember: nurses, social workers, OT’s are all in the 90% range, and the MD’s, psychologists, and RT’s are right around 50%. Women are much more likely to drive these group feeds at work. But even here it’s recent. In earlier decades there was quite a bit of fuss making sure that coffee was made, but that was it. As at school, I don’t think that much eating was done at work in past generations. Eating was for home, with family.
Again, I suspect the wealthy adhere to this more even now.
Family-life publications, especially the Christian ones, read as if we could recapture old values by changing back to the meal patterns of an earlier era. Perhaps. But it is as likely to be cart as horse. That it is all a part of some more general societal trend toward informality, atomisation, and quicker gratification is more likely still. I suppose the upwardly-mobile might want to learn to eat as the rich do, in much the same way that middle class children were given lessons in eating off fine china two and three generations ago. (We had such specific instruction for our two older sons – I don’t know that it has been of much direct benefit.)
Here’s a thought: choice of food may be developing class lines. It was the more elite colleges that first had vegetarian dining halls, and the Portlandia routine has its examples in Austin and Burlington. Carefully chosen food is something of a marker of one who reads and studies, of one who is a little more modern, and – sorry, but you know it’s true – not like those Mexicans, blacks, and rednecks who tend to be obese, Muffy. We’re not like them, poor things. More recent immigrants may have a leg up, there, though I confess I don’t actually have much insight into the Brookline mind (or Fishtown, either.)
Eating for weight control is very recent, simply because having too much food never showed up as a problem until the 20th C. Our image of prosperous in Merrie Olde England tends to increased poundage. That is rather reversed now.
Cooking and kitchen items remain the main focus of wedding presents, don’t they? Even though we entertain less and have fewer meals together, that association remains strong. Linens – but what do I know – are found more at engagement showers. Wedding gift registries remain kitchen-heavy.
FWIW there may also be a bit of regionalism in some of these foodways.
My family almost always had a planned and shared (as were major meals) snack both midmorning and midafternoon. I think this was derived from my father's family (Iowa German farmers) practice. Always included coffee and depending on the season it could be quite substantal (sandwiches during fieldwork times, cookies or cake otherwise). It probably derived from a break to water and rest the horses though I've never quizzed either my father or mother about it.
In the offices I've worked in here in the midwest there is a similar practice, a continuation of the old 'coffee break', among various groups though it is far from universal.
I learned the opposite lesson- that we didn't eat out because of money, and therefore eating out/eating brand name snacks was somehow a mark of status. Looking back I can see this is entirely based on child culture, not culture at large, but it's too late for my waistline now.
though genetics may have a lot to do with that waistline too...
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