Julian Armstrong: Myth of the Family Dinner Overdone

Roundup: Talking About History

There's a theory that if we could only restore the family dinner, preferably home-cooked, our culture and health would be saved.

Too late, food historians say. Family dinners were more myth than reality, even in Victorian times, and women have been trying to get out of their kitchens since the early 20th century, scholars told a recent conference called What's for Dinner: The Daily Meal Through History.

The latest development in the effort to bring back the family dinner is a U.S. program called "Dream Dinners": the participants, affluent women, gather to make frozen meals that they can heat up without dirtying their state-of-the-art kitchens.

If family dinners have gone the way of the dodo, some other old food traditions are alive and well, speakers told the conference, organized by the McCord Museum and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

They described how Quebecers still enjoy time-honoured dishes such as tourtiere, pea soup and sugar pie; that the Thanksgiving turkey is a built-in custom; and that old-time cookbooks are still used.

But it's a myth that the dinner hour used to be "a pleasant and comforting ritual beneficial to our health and well-being," as McGill English professor Nathalie Cooke put it. Studying the years from 1900 to 2000, she said, dinner in Edwardian times and later was designed to feed the breadwinner, and children ate at different times.

[Editor's Note: This is a very short excerpt from a much longer article. Please see The Gazette for more.]

comments powered by Disqus