Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Wedding Cakes and Cultural History

Synopsis

The question of food is a growing interest in anthropology. Levi-Strauss made the famous distinction between the raw and the cooked and this ushered in the so-called 'structuralist revolution', the effects of which are still being felt within the subject. The wedding cake, whether 'traditional' or in new styles is no ordinary object. At once familiar in form, tradition and ceremony, it presents a fascination and a range of problems which anthropologists are only just beginning to work on. It is a product of a complex, contingent and continuing history, which illustrates and challenges theories of 'structuralism' and 'neo-structuralism'.

Excerpt

I have often thought that wedding parties ought to be held five years after taking the vows, if for no other reason than to celebrate the fact that the happy nuptials managed to stick it out that long. The survival of romance should have its rewards, and much champagne and cake would not seem so needlessly squandered. For better or for worse, the cynic's smile has no effect on love, and as Simon Charsley has so thoroughly elucidated in this book, the Great Cake and its layers upon layers of sublimated meanings-erotic to commemorative-are certainly here to stay. It is a food that has become a veritable institution. A wedding without it would be a wedding without protocol, a rite without confirmation.

Mary Douglas's apt observation on this very point several years ago, tossed out as a challenge to food research, has indeed found its realisation in this rather exhaustive analysis of the British-and by extension, the American and European-roots of the wedding cake tradition. I am particularly impressed by the way Dr Charsley has used history to support sociology and put them to work for something I call 'culinary anthropology'. In short, this is a deeply insightful, profusely documented foray into the wedding cake in its broadest sense. It anticipates a new kind of food study that (at long last!) begins to view food as part of a holistic world, a world where history and myth, recipe and performance, change and continuity are actually seen as one.

William Woys Weaver
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia

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