Marguerite's Reviews > Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal

Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser
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Dec 15, 09

bookshelves: nature-and-science, now-we-re-cooking
Read in December, 2009

A culinary anthropologist and social scientist looks at dinner, with fascinating results. Margaret Visser takes a simple meal and dissects it, molecularly and across history. Her book makes me look at dining differently: "A meal is an artistic social construct, ordering the foodstuffs which comprise it into a complex dramatic whole. ... However humble it may be, a meal has a definite plot, the intention of which is to intrigue, stimulate and satisfy." Despite the book's age (1986), not a lot is dated. Visser was ahead of her time in understanding the science of nutrition and the politics of food production. I put so many sticky flags in this, I felt like I might need my own copy, to mark and consult.

"Subordination, as in the clauses of an English sentence, is still one of our cultural trademarks, in spite of a new tendency to display, in art in order to save time, everything at once on one platter -- a whole meal, even on one TV-dinner tray or airplane dinner package. Equality, plurality, and choice still have to battle with the hierarchies of size and value."

"A North American supermarket is market place, temple, palace, and parade all rolled into one.It is both the expression and the symbol of the goals and the means of North American civilization, physically embodying the culture's yearnings for size, availability, freedom of choice, uniformity, variety, abundance, convenience, cleanliness, speed, and the reduction of hierarchy to quantity: money and amount."

I think the chapters I most enjoyed were the two about salt and butter. (Reading about chickens might put you off your feed.)

I have another book by Visser on my to-read list. I'll move it up.
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