Toenails cut while dining, meals served to wax effigies of the dead, napkins concealing singing birds - these are just a few of the more exotic aspects of everyman at the table. From the stupendous banquets of the Ancient Babylonians, this book covers five millennia of formal eating.
Sharing a meal, in particular a grand one, has always been a complex social mechanism for uniting and dividing people. Such an event could signal peace, a marriage, a victory, a coronation or a funeral, to name but a few. The feast was a vehicle for display and ostentation, for flattering and influencing people as well as providing a theatre in which to exercise the art of conversation and the display of manners.
This book offers a fascinating and, at times, a highly unusual mirror of society as it evolves. It gathers together for the first time all the threads which contributed to the phenomenon of the celebratory meal: the people, the clothes, the food, the setting, the action and its surrounding circumstances, for in the consumption of food can be found the origins of every kind of theatre.
Taking the reader from the elegancies of the Roman villa to the austerities of the monastic refectory, from the splendours of the Renaissance banquet to the demands of the Victorian dinner patty, 'Feast' sets out to answer the basic questions of our eating habits, and the answers are never less than surprising.