Sociology of Cultures

by Kieran Healy on December 12, 2003

Via Alan Schussman (it’s great when your RAs have blogs) comes an interesting review by Steven Shapin of Camembert: A National Myth by Pierre Boisard. The book shows how there’s rather more—and rather less—to the famous cheese than meets the eye and nose. Unlikely though it may seem, Camembert’s development mirrors the evolution of the French state.

A friend of mine once raised a skeptical eyebrow, and smirked a bit, when I told him about that there was a fascinating subfield on the sociology of food. But one only has to think of the place of food in all parts of life, from daily meals to key events like weddings and wakes, to see how rich a topic it is. My only contribution so far to the field is a 45 second talk occasionally delivered to Americans explaining that Irish people do not, in fact, eat corned beef and cabbage.

{ 20 comments }

1

Dean Allen 12.12.03 at 12:06 pm

For relentlessly fascinating writing on the sociology and economics of food, Margaret Visser‘s two books, Much Depends on Dinner and The Rituals of Dinner, are unbeatable.

2

Katherine 12.12.03 at 2:50 pm

My former boss told me a theory out there somewhere that the Irish made bad food as a way of rebellion against the English–i.e. they resented the potato as a symbol of opression even as they were dependent on it–so they ate them, but would only boil them.

This didn’t sound very convincing to me–you rebel against England by making bland, boiled food? Not to mention that it’d be a very good example of cutting off your nose to spite your face–with very little effect on the face. Maybe it was supposed to be subconscious.

It’s also possible that my boss was talking out of his, as the Irish say, arse. He had a tendency to do that.

There’s definitely an essay on vegemite waiting to be written if it hasn’t been already.

3

ThePeanutGallery 12.12.03 at 2:51 pm

“My only contribution so far to the field is a 45 second talk occasionally delivered to Americans explaining that Irish people do not, in fact, eat corned beef and cabbage.”

And why the hell not?! Its good enough for us Irish Americans! When did the old country become so la-dee-da!!

4

rv. agnos 12.12.03 at 3:53 pm

I agree with the peanut gallery. I an not Irish, and never had heard that the Irish eat corned beef and cabbage.

I, however, eat corned beef and cabbage regularly, and see no reason why peoples of all cultures should not.

5

jimbo 12.12.03 at 4:06 pm

If you’re interested in the sociology and the science behind food (as well as some great recipes), watch Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” on the Food Network…

6

maurinsky 12.12.03 at 4:13 pm

I am Irish-American – my father and all my grandparents were born in Ireland – and we had corned beef & cabbage a couple of times, but on special occasions, it was always lamb. We also had fish every Friday, Vatican II or not, and lots of root vegetables.

My mother is a horrible cook, and except for lamb, nearly everything else she cooked was boiled, even chicken. However, on Sunday mornings, after my older sister and I had to suffer through both church and a spoonful of cod liver oil, my father would make a big Irish breakfast, with eggs, bangers, 2 kinds of bacon, blood pudding (which I thought was actually called black pudding, and I used to love it, but cannot possibly think of eating it now that I know what it is), and ham, all cooked in butter. That’s some good eating.

7

des 12.12.03 at 4:54 pm

Black pudding is the standard English British British English name for a kind of sausage made from coltted pigs’ blood, usually cut into slices and fried, yum yum.

Also a proper English fried breakfast should include fried bread and toast, and a very large mug of tea.

I’m not Irish, and I’ve never had corned beef and cabbage, but I’d like to enter a plea of mitigating bubble and squeak.

8

maurinsky 12.12.03 at 5:00 pm

Well, I left off the tea, but of course we had tea with breakfast! However, I don’t believe we ever had fried bread, but we usually had toast and/or buttered rolls.

When I went to England earlier this year, our typical breakfast included eggs & grilled tomato slices in addition to all the meat.

9

rea 12.12.03 at 5:05 pm

“Irish people do not, in fact, eat corned beef and cabbage.”

Oh, no! Next you’ll be telling us that the Italians don’t really eat pizza, the Mexicans don’t really eat burritos, or the Chinese don’t really eat chop suey. Shocking!

10

Katherine 12.12.03 at 6:04 pm

by the way, how are you posting from the future?

11

Doug 12.12.03 at 6:19 pm

Given that Brits eat curry, Americans eat something Mexican-ish, and Germans live off of doner kebab, what do Irish people eat?

12

John Smith 12.12.03 at 8:40 pm

Yet again, an authentic treasure proves to be a lucrative snow-job on the gullible!

No doubt, a century or more of living with the tyranny of railway time makes us hanker after an idyll which is more once upon a time…

13

Chris Bertram 12.12.03 at 9:20 pm

_what do Irish people eat?_

Moules marinieres is one plausible answer.

14

Kieran Healy 12.12.03 at 9:44 pm

by the way, how are you posting from the future?

Local time in Australia. Whoops.

15

Katherine 12.12.03 at 10:30 pm

I figured it might be a time zone thing, but I’ve been known to accidentally set my computer clock to next February and really confuse people.

16

Tom 12.12.03 at 11:36 pm

“what do Irish people eat?”

Beckett’s, an Irish pub in Berkeley, has a great tempuraed green beans with soy-ginger sauce. And a nice smoked salmon on Boxty.

I never ate those things growing up in Ireland. But I wish I had.

17

reuben 12.13.03 at 12:14 am

So they’re not only cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they’re cheese-mytholigizing surrender monkeys too? Perfidious!

18

Marcus Tullius Cicero 12.13.03 at 12:20 am

I have to join your other readers in pointing out that corned beef and cabbage is one of the most wonderful dishes ever invented. The Irish apparently have no idea what they are missing. Quick! Tell them!

19

james 12.13.03 at 1:01 am

I’m Irish and most certainly DO eat corned beef and cabbage, if I’m lucky. Yum!

James, Dublin.

20

Mary Kay 12.13.03 at 6:38 am

A friend of mine once raised a skeptical eyebrow, and smirked a bit, when I told him about that there was a fascinating subfield on the sociology of food. But one only has to think of the place of food in all parts of life, from daily routine to key events like weddings and wakes, to see how rich a topic it is.

I was going to recommend Visser’s books but I see someone beat me to it. Also Reay Tannahill’s book called, I think The History of Food because what we eat has shaped our history as well.

My only contribution so far to the field is a 45 second talk occasionally delivered to Americans explaining that Irish people do not, in fact, eat corned beef and cabbage.

I’ve explained this to people too and they look at me funny. No, I’m not Irish (well ok, my mother’s maiden name was Casey) but I’ve been there several times and I read a lot. As far as answering the person upthread about what the Irish *do* eat: lots of seafood, salmon, lamb, potatoes. And of course many other interesting things. I probably shouldn’t relate how, when I spent a month there, I got addicted to egg mayonnaise sandwiches with onions. For breakfast.

MKK

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