Feast: A History of Grand Eating

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9780151007585: Feast: A History of Grand Eating

Sharing a grand meal has always been a complex social event. Feasts have been used to celebrate significant occasions, to parade rank and hierarchy, and to flatter and influence people. There has always been a theatrical element to the feast as well-from the nude dancers who entertained dinner guests in ancient Greece to the restrained rigors of the Victorian dinner party.
Sir Roy Strong examines this cultural phenomenon with knowledge, wit, and style-beginning with the ninth century B.C., when a Babylonian emperor discreetly invited seventy thousand guests for a ten-day celebration, and ending early in the twentieth century, by which time feasts had become somewhat more modest. Always attuned to how these celebrations mirror the societies that hold them and to the way they reflect shifts in power and class, this beautifully illustrated book offers a lively and illuminating history of grand eating.
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Review:

What occurs when we gather to dine? More than just eating, says Roy Strong, whose remarkable Feast: A History of Grand Eatingreviews sumptuous dining from ancient Greece to the present. What is discovered, again and again, is that "the meal, and everything connected with it has been, and still is, a vehicle for determining status and hierarchy--and also aspiration--no matter what pattern of society prevails." To illustrate, Strong takes readers on a journey that encompasses the banquets of ancient Rome, which, preceding their decadent excesses (Caligula liked dinner with decapitations), were models of civilized entertainment; to the Christian and Renaissance eras, a transformation of dining from symbolic ecclesiastical ritual to splendorous high-court ceremony; to a newly hierarchical world which, in counter-distinction to French Revolution commonalties, yielded the 19th and early 20th-century's defining status event, the dinner party; and finally to our own dispiriting time, in which the erosion of traditional forms has left us with TV-snacking, grazing, and the restaurant as surrogate rank-delineator, once society's task.

Strong is a master distiller who keeps a sharp academic lookout while proving a companionable, entertaining guide. It's hard to imagine anyone who could more pithily explore, for example, the evolution and meaning of manners (from courtly ritual to aspiring-class impediment); the invention of the dining room (which required a permanent dining table, long in coming); sugar's pivotal role (as a baroque sculptural medium!); and the history of cookbooks (keen mirrors of class). For anyone interested in what it has meant to use a fork (first a status marker then, supplanting the knife, the only approved implement for carrying food to mouth) among much else, this is a perfect read. --Arthur Boehm

From the Inside Flap:

A unique and fascinating history of grand eating by one of the UK?s best-known communicators.

Sharing a meal, in particular a grand one, has always been a complex social mechanism for uniting and dividing people. Such an event could signal peace, a marriage, a victory, an alliance, a coming-of-age, a coronation or a funeral. The feast was a vehicle for display and ostentation, for the parade of rank and hierarchy, for flattering and influencing people as well as providing a theatre in which to exercise the art of conversation and the display of manners.

In an age that has virtually abolished the shared meal as a central feature of daily living, Feast presents a revelatory
picture of a world we have lost. Beautifully illustrated, it traces fashions in food and the etiquette of eating -- from the elegance of the Roman villa to the austerity of the monastic refectory, from the splendours of the Renaissance banquet to the rigours of the Victorian dinner party.

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