Between us and our ancestors, who tore apart their half-raw, half-burnt meat with their teeth, or the women of Mesopotamia who ground flour to bake bread, food traditions have piled up and up. Food is no longer a matter of survival, nor purely power; it confers the status and identity with which we distinguish ourselves from others and at the same time gives us the sense of community we seek. Those who eat as we do have a connection with us; they are as we are.
“Dinner’s ready!” is the traditional cry with which Western mothers used to call their playing children indoors and grab the attention of their newspaper-reading husbands. “Dinner’s ready!” We’re about to eat, so drop what you’re doing. The call represented the most important moment of the day, a confirmation of family life, of the caring role of the mother and the authority of the father. So it went on for many generations, in many countries.
The table is a place of memory where we, whether because of the Proustian madeleine or not, become aware of who we are and with whom we are. Around the table, all previous meals come together in every meal, in an endless succession of memories and associations. The table is the place where the family gathers, the symbol of solidarity, or indeed the backdrop to family rows and childhood tragedies. At the table the eater is tamed. At the table we relive our youth through the recipes of the past, our hatred of endive or liver, teenage love through that first failed canard à l’orange, the sadness of the unarticulated apology, the tears of loneliness that mixed with the burnt cauliflower, the sensuality of fingers dipped in an airy sauce mousseline.