Myths of the Family Meal: Re:reading Edwardian Life Histories

Peter Jackson, Sarah Elizabeth Olive, Graham Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


This chapter uses evidence from the Edwardian period in Britain, immediately prior to the First World War, to challenge present-day myths about the decline of the ‘family meal’. Defining a ‘family meal’ is, of course, no easy matter and raises thorny issues about the distinction between families and households. But the term generally refers to members of the same (usually nuclear) family eating a meal together, sometimes in the presence of other (non-family) members of the same household. As is now widely recognised, ‘family’ is itself a falsely monolithic concept (DeVault 1991: 15), its taken-for-granted character belying the diversity of family forms. In what follows, we take a performative approach to defining ‘family’, where the preparation and eating of food plays an active role in the constitution of family life, rather than approaching ‘family’ as a pre-formed social unit who happen to take some of their meals together. Indeed, as others have argued, ‘a “family” is not a naturally occurring collection of individuals; its reality is constructed from day to day through activities like eating together’ (DeVault 1991: 39). Like DeVault, we argue that the preparation and consumption of food plays a crucial role in ‘doing family’, a practice that involves complex forms of social organisation and highly gendered patterns of paid and unpaid work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChanging Families, Changing Food
EditorsPeter Jackson
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
ISBN (Electronic)9780230244795
ISBN (Print)9780230223981
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Myths of the Family Meal: Re:reading Edwardian Life Histories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this