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Feast: A History of Grand Eating Hardcover – November 3, 2003

4.9 out of 5 stars 11 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Publishers Weekly

British historian Strong (The Story of Britain) turns his attention to the history of feasting and the grand occasion. Formal eating has historically been a complex way of uniting and dividing people on many social levels. Power, position and the dishes served indicated status or lack of it throughout the centuries, Strong notes. From ancient times to the Victorians, encompassing the Romans, the medieval court, the Renaissance, French pomp and ostentation, food and the ceremony of dining provided a theater for marking marriages, victories, coronations and funerals, or for influencing and impressing. Strong thoroughly tackles the complex mechanisms of this social area of life, imbuing it with atmosphere while conveying enough scholarly detail to make this a comprehensive and authoritative history. He depicts not only the food eaten but also the setting, from the design and development of rooms for dining to the clothes, utensils, people and etiquette. Dividing the volume into eras, Strong describes the emergence of cooks and cookbooks in the Middle Ages, the advent of service … la fran‡aise, the decline of formal eating during the French Revolution (Napoleon ate his dinner in 10 minutes) and the re-emergence of the formal dinner party in Victorian times and service … la russe, which we would recognize today. Drawing on contemporary sources and liberally sprinkled with illustrations, the volume fills a gap in social history, and while seeming pompous at times, it's sure to charm and inform.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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