Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society

By Alan Beardsworth; Teresa Keil | Go to book overview

5

EATING OUT

The restaurant is the tank in the warfare of cookery because it has always been a major instrument for smashing old eating habits. Take-away food is the guerrilla of cooking.

(Zeldin 1983:147).

Such dramatic assertions raise expectations that the analysis of some, if not all, kinds of eating out will present major contrasts with the patterns of eating at home considered in the previous chapter. For the most part, studies of the household emphasize the important contribution of patterns of food preparation and serving in maintaining traditions, particularly stability of food choice, in setting reassuring boundaries between members of the household and others, and providing a means of social communication and identity and a constant reaffirmation of the existing divisions of labour and power hierarchies within the family. However, before it is possible to make any assessments as to whether eating away from home is different from eating at home, and the extent to which Zeldin’s assertions are justified, it is necessary to consider information about a series of relevant issues. For example, it is important to clarify what is meant by ‘eating out’, how and why opportunities for eating away from home emerged, became established, were organized and staffed and, perhaps the most intriguing issue, what we know of how such opportunities are used, perceived and experienced by consumers.

From the point of view of the late twentieth century, it is easy to imagine all the activities which might take us away from home, and which might entail our being compelled or choosing to find something to eat. We could consume anything ranging from a snack to a full meal, and it could be eaten with friends or family in their homes. However, even if we did not have any social contacts, we could still eat. In most situations in our society, access to a wide range of food would be readily available, providing, of course, that we were able to afford it. It is the kind of food made available for money, from commercial outlets such as shops, take-aways, fast-food and other restaurants, that has been identified as a twentieth-century ‘revolution’ in our eating habits (Gabriel 1988:7). The iden-

-100-

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