Sunday, July 22, 2018

History of dinner, TV dinner

I've caught several episodes of CBC-TV's brief summer series Back in Time for Dinner. There is food history on TV.

Okay, it's food history with a fair amount of cheese. This is a pretty soft presentation, very much for entertainment. The series immerses a Canadian family of five in the decor, clothing, technology, fads, and above all the food of six decades one after another, 1940s to 1990s, and it has to move fast and funny.

But time and again I was struck by how the program actually did achieve a certain time depth. The horror of the modern family obliged to follow the wartime forties' reliance on organ meats like kidneys ("All I smell is urine!") and other economical (and unprocessed) foods is striking, just as their disgusted amazement at the fifties' enthusiasm for jellied salads is entertaining.

But a sense of foreignness is effectively created. Back in Time for Dinner nicely notes how, when  kids went out for snacks and sociability in the fifties and sixties, they generally went to a mom-and-pop kind of place, not to the corporate-planned Macdonalds, Tims, or Starbucks we take for granted. The modern woman in the series, refusing to surrender her 21st century perspectives, effectively emphasizes the house work expected of women and only women, and the lack of kitchen technology in most of the decades they briefly inhabit.

The family seems very much white and Euro-Canadian -- until the father mentions his indigenous experience on his mother's side. And there were (a few) intriguing nods to diversity, as Canadians took shyly to Chinese food early, later to South Asian food (effectively linked to changes in immigration policy), later to global gourmet trends.   

There are even food historians -- U of T professor Jo Sharma for one -- featured.

Back in Time for Dinner ain't a Ken Burns documentary, for sure. But for a summer entertainment, I was kinda pleased with its sense of history and historical change.  Probably still available on demand on your TV service or online.
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