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The Rituals of Dinner

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About the Author

Margaret Visser is a writer and broadcast with a particular interest in the mythology of everyday life. Her books include The Gift of Thanks, Much Depends on Dinner, The Rituals of Dinner, The Way We Are, and The Geometry of Love. Many of these have been bestsellers and have won major international awards, including the Glenfiddich Award for Foodbook of the Year in Britain in 1989, the International Association of Culinary Professionals' Literary Food Writing Award, and the Jane Grigson Award. Her Massey Lectures on CBC radio were later published as the bestselling book Beyond Fate. Visser's books have been translated into French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. She frequently appears on radio and television, and has lectured extensively throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.


A belief that food sharing is one characteristic that sets humans apart from animals guides Visser--a professor of classical literature and author of Much Depends on Dinner ( LJ 1/88)--on an exploration of table manners, food taboos, and eating rituals found in cultures throughout the world. Utilizing sources from literature, history, anthropology, and sociology, Visser offers a balanced explanation of how and why rules governing eating arose and why they persist. This explanation is followed by several chapters full of examples of the wide range of eating behaviors found in historical and contemporary cultures. Visser has collected a wealth of information from a varied list of sources, making her book a valuable document. The sheer volume of information and matter-of-fact tone may, however, discourage all but etiquette enthusiasts from reading the book for sheer pleasure.-- Eric Hinsdale, Simmons Coll. Graduate Sch. of Management, Boston

Many dining practices--when to start eating, whether to talk or be silent, seating arrangements, the sequence of dishes--vary enormously from one culture to another. Visser elucidates the differences in a continuously involving and surprising banquet of a book, a worthy successor to her Much Depends on Dinner. Table manners, she notes, impose order and regularity on a situation in which people sit in close proximity, armed (with eating utensils) and vulnerable. This observation leads to a discussion of cannibalism, sacrifices, feasts and teaching children etiquette. Visser then takes us through a meal, with sections on toasting, dinner parties, leftovers, bodily control and much else. A smorgasbord of cross-cultural insights, delectably served, this marvelous book instills a keen awareness of the complex social ritual of eating in the company of others. (July)

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