Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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To examine mealtimes is to raise the question of what constitutes a meal, and to note that they obey cultural and social as well as biological rules.

To most people in the western world, the rhythm of the day punctuated by three meals seems so natural that it must always have existed. This daily rhythm is only one embedded in others: meals are also patterned by the week, with its weekdays and weekend, and by the year, with its seasonal and ritual variations. The insertion of the daily rhythm into the larger patterns imposes variations on any ‘standard’ model. Meals themselves are patterned too, each meal having its foods which are seen as appropriate, and which are consumed in an ‘appropriate’ order. Other societies, whether distant in time or in space, do not necessarily have the same patterns.