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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2008

Suzanne Daly
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Ross G. Forman
National University of Singapore


In perhaps her most famous comment, Isabella Beeton, the doyenne of Victorian cookery, proclaimed, “Dining is the privilege of civilization” (363). Dinner, she went on to explain, “is a matter of considerable importance; and a well-served table is a striking index of human ingenuity and resource” (363). That “much depends on dinner” has been widely recognized in a variety of contexts since Beeton made this pronouncement in her Book of Household Management in the mid-Victorian era. From Upton Sinclair's exposé of the meat industry in The Jungle (1906) to the more recent fascination with Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2001) and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), food – and particularly its mismanagement – has become a positive obsession with the public at large. Anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and psychologists – from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Mary Douglas to Sidney Mintz to Sigmund Freud himself – have long engaged in commenting on what Beeton asserts in her chapter on “Dinner and Dining”: that distinctions in food preparation, eating habits, and modes of dining are a crucial axis around which cultures and groups consolidate themselves. Similarly, organizations like Stanford University's now defunct Food Research Institute have investigated food's centrality to “human ingenuity,” in this case through the study of agricultural practice and policy.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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