At the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain

At the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain

At the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain

At the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain


Research on European food culture has expanded substantially in recent years, telling us more about food preparation, ingredients, feasting and fasting rituals, and the social and cultural connotations of food.

At the First Table demonstrates the ways in which early modern Spaniards used food as a mechanism for the performance of social identity. People perceived themselves and others as belonging to clearly defined categories of gender, status, age, occupation, and religion, and each of these categories carried certain assumptions about proper behavior and appropriate relationships with others. Food choices and dining customs were effective and visible ways of displaying these behaviors in the choreography of everyday life. In contexts from funerals to festivals to their treatment of the poor, Spaniards used food to display their wealth, social connections, religious affiliation, regional heritage, and membership in various groups and institutions and to reinforce perceptions of difference.

Research on European food culture has been based largely on studies of England, France, and Italy, but more locally on Spain. Jodi Campbell combines these studies with original research in household accounts, university and monastic records, and municipal regulations to provide a broad overview of Spanish food customs and to demonstrate their connections to identity and social change in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Antonio moreno de la torre was a SEVENTEENTHcentury merchant in Zamora, a city in northwestern Spain. Like many businessmen of his time and place, Moreno kept a diary for several years in which he recorded his business ventures, travels, social activities, and key events in the lives of his family and friends. the entries are brief and direct, without much detail or personal reflection. Nevertheless, as he wrote about these events, his descriptions indicate the extent to which an awareness of food and its symbolic importance was woven into the social, festive, and business activities of early modern Spaniards.

Moreno’s observations on his social and business contacts nearly always included meals as an important element, celebrating religious or other festive events and demonstrating valuable social connections. On the feast day of San Atilano in May 1675, his entry read, “Sermon from the famous Franciscan, and then a fulsome meal, especially at the first table, with the dean, the priests, the aldermen and myself.” in the spring of 1676, after the Palm Sunday procession, he noted that “Valmaseda gave a dinner in the house of Don Francisco Valderas, which I attended, very successful.” Moreno’s entries most often referred to the context of the meals he attended (a festival day, family celebration, or meeting of business . . .

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