Corkey Trivia: Food & Light

In Medieval England dinner was a prime time event.   In those days, just like today, dinner was the main meal with some kind of hot cooked food.  (Prime time in those days was prime daylight.  In fact, during Shakespeare’s time most theatrical productions were performed in daylight.)

Having daylight made doing all the things required to cook a meal in those days a lot safer than doing it in the dark or by candle light.  In addition, candles were expensive and didn’t give enough light in small quantities to avoid accidents in doing all the things necessary to cook a meal. So for practical as well as ritualistic reasons Dinner was eaten around 12 or 1PM.   Water was considered an unhealthy drink, so beer and wine were the beverages of choice with dinner.  (The “two martini lunch” was the norm in those days, too bad it’s a thing of the past today.)

In those days, the rhythms of everyday life were bound by daylight.  Noblemen, merchants and peasants all had breakfast, dinner and supper at about the same time, first thing in the morning, around noon(the main meal), and around sundown (just before going to bed) respectively.  Many folks ate so much at dinner that they felt no need to partake in the “just before bed” supper.  According to English tradition, supper was considered optional.

So how did our main meal of dinner get pushed to between six and nine?  As industrialization boosted economies in the 1700s and artificial lighting became more widespread people could stay up later and either be productive or simply enjoy diversions now available in the evening.  As a result, the upper classes tended to stay up and party late into the evening.  Subsequently, it became fashionable to sleep in late and dine late.  By the 1740s the upper classes were dining at three or four in the afternoon.  By the 1770s, dinner was at four or five.  By the 1790s dinner had been moved to five or six.  By the 1800s dinner was eaten at six or seven.

With the development of factories, trains and street cars people started to work further and further away from home so folks in the middle and lower classes would rush to work soon after breakfast and then have to wait till they got back home around eight at night to have their main meal. So as changes in society dictated ever longer stretches of time between breakfast and the main meal of dinner, the portable sack lunch was adopted.

Technology has moved us so far away from the rhythms of nature that we’ve had to make a conscious effort to get back to nature and recall that the sun remains our best source of light.  In daylight it’s safer to drive, do yard work, to go for a walk, and BBQ, to name a few things.

As a matter of fact, The Department of Transportation recently made it easier for mainlanders to bust out the BBQ at dinner time.  Daylight savings time springs ahead three weeks earlier than in the past.  It moved from the first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March.  We’ll also be falling back to standard time one week later than previously on the first Sunday of November rather than the last Sunday of October.

For us in Hawaii this means that we’ll have to make sure to do that mainland business call an hour earlier than usual for a longer stretch of time.  But that’s ok, unlike the mainlanders, we get to have BBQ dinner all year long… without the assistance of daylight savings time.  As a matter of fact, I’ll be having BBQ tonight, a jammy zinfandel with BBQ, broke da mouth.  Cheers!

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