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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Etiquette in this instance means table manners, an accident of food among pages which in large part relate to the foods themselves. Most societies modify individuals’ behaviour when eating together. Commensality is a complex negotiation, even within families, and conflict may be avoided by observing a variety of rituals and boundaries. Indeed, Margaret Visser (1991) would have it that manners are ‘a response to the ancient, subconscious threat of being attacked by one’s peers’ during meals.

Myriad examples of arcane observances can be found, from the stringent rules governing the use of chopsticks in China and Japan, to Indians’ punctilious use of the correct hand and the correct manner when eating with their fingers. In medieval Europe, the careful ritual of a formal meal in a noble household is sign enough that manners and etiquette mattered even in societies where personal habits differed from those that obtain in the contemporary world.