Our Gateway tutor Dr Steve Gascoigne creates discussion in his classes using topics like food, safety, security and shopping. Here he ponders what a traditional Christmas dinner means.
Here at the Centre for Lifelong Learning I teach a course on food and every week I encourage students to bring in nibbles. For our last class before Christmas I always encourage Christmas nibbles; I never need to tell the students what to bring because everyone knows what food is Christmas food. Teaching food and studying food gives an important insight into society and food culture (this is known as foodways). After all, everyone has to eat.
For those who celebrate it, Christmas is special, perhaps the special event in the year of food and eating and I want to explore four aspects here: who does the cooking; where does the eating take place; whose taste and who with.
Firstly who cooks and the answer is mostly women (this is known as the domestic division of labour), Christmas is special but it doesn’t tend to be so special that many men cook the meal (unlike the barbeque). Next, where does it take place? Often the special meal requires a table rather than a lap in front of the TV. Often the meal is cooked and eaten at home (domestic), at other times it’s a meal out (commercial). Because it is special it is bound up closely with ideas of tradition and from there to conformity. It’s a brave cook that serves frozen pizza at Christmas. Taste comes into play here too and in Britain taste often reflects class. Lastly, what company do we eat with at Christmas? For many it’s an event where family eat together, for others it’s friends. There’s often a meal with work colleagues also. In all these examples the practice of using food to bring people together is there.
If you’re not too busy eating and being merry during your own Christmas meal do reflect upon these aspects. What will you be eating and who with? Do you get to sit on a proper chair or a garden chair? And who cooks the dinner? I hope there’s something here to chew over and that I’ve given you food for thought.