Small feasts

Denton Welch, according to his diaries, was an inveterate picnic-er (if that is a word). This is a typical repast: “When we got to the opening which led into the wood, we pushed our bicycles up over the brambles and leaves; we came out at the charming clearing that I knew, and we laid my coat on the ground and spread out the lunch. Hard-boiled eggs, toast, coffee, beer for Eric [his companion], biscuits, apple tart, blackcurrant puree”.

Another picnic consisted of this: “I have been eating my lunch in the fields nearby (Ryvita, cheese, apricot jam, chocolate, bar of squashed dried fruits, coffee), sitting on my coral air-cushion, given me by May, reading for the fourth or fifth time an outline of the Brontë sisters’ lives.”

I adore the frugality and simplicity of these picnics. Admittedly, many took place during the war (Welch was too sick to serve), where even a fresh egg was already a small luxury.

Perhaps because I am a Puritan at heart I’m irked how food is being fetishized. It seems like it has taken its place at the table of culture, equal to literature, dance, art. It’s culture we can all participate in and become experts in. Great wits used to discuss poetry, politics and novels. They now can talk molecular gastronomy without seeming like oafs. Moreover, it is now not uncommon to eat a feast – to eat like nobles – several times a week, and think nothing of it.

I wish for a time when feasts were rare, eagerly anticipated and savored in retrospect many months later. I wish for a time when food was humble; a small treat. When you ate a hard-boiled egg and a slice of Ryvita, and enjoyed every crumb, without the constant search for novelty, the blogging, the picture taking, the discussions, the ceaseless parade of new food trends.

When food is not culture, not a secular religion, not entertainment. Just food.

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