Unsettling the table

Midway through January, it seems fair to ask: What of the feast? Lunar New Year celebrations notwithstanding, most of our tables will go unused, in a ceremonial sense, for months following the holidays. The feast, it appears, is a seasonal affair. Of course, one might suppose that the post-holiday absence of cornucopian spreads mirrors the realities of winter-fresh produce would be virtually unattainable in the winter months without global supply chains. But, if feasting is a form of social or cultural observance  – consider Canada Day barbeques, Christmas and Shabbat dinners, and birthdays – then surely the function of the feast lies beyond the timely consumption of a perishable harvest.

The root of this might be grasped by questioning why we eat anything but feasts. Many of you might observe that, mid-semester, breakfasts are eaten hastily, lunches from a Tupperware, and dinners in a solitude typical of post-holiday routine. In other words, our meals accord with our productive schedules, chosen for their nutritional content. The occasional moment of poetry aside, the absence of feast, celebration, or communion leaves our tables barren but with the food itself. We are motors of production and activity – food is our fuel.

Feasting, perhaps, rejects this view of the alimentary meal, lending the holidays their sense of ritual. For example, my aunt’s table, set for Christmas dinner, has been accomplice to some theatrical acts of gluttony—but also to gestures of kinship, charity and love. In contrast is the weeknight poached-egg-on-toast supper: These hasty meals are seldom thought of as preconditions of being a loving, sensing, feeling subject. Often, I imagine breakfast as nothing more than a means of surviving 8:30 a.m. lectures on microeconomic theory.

As a rite of togetherness – an unapologetic celebration in a season of mid-terms and papers – gathering to feast is a small act of rebellion. Whether your table is set with plastic containers of hummus, Wallaroo Trail and Netflix, or beef bourguignon, a nice Bordeaux and cloth napkins is largely unimportant. Regardless of what is being eaten, treating food as feast saves it from the order of to-do lists and reading responses—perhaps by locating food in a space where gluttony for gluttony’s sake is perfectly acceptable.

Admittedly, I haven’t eaten anything feast-worthy since returning from the holidays. But this is okay; I am in no position to prescribe what foodstuffs should be invested with ceremonial value. Instead, I would be glad enough knowing that some reader has taken it upon themselves to summon their companions and carry forward the celebratory momentum built up between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

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