Homework #4: Food and Status in History

Bill Brandt, Parlourmaid and Under-Parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, c. 1934, from metmuseum.org

Bill Brandt, Parlourmaid and Under-Parlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, c. 1934, from metmuseum.org

The twentieth-century photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) took photographs of the servants working in wealthy households and coal miners in modest dwellings. His photographs often juxtaposed the working class and those with privilege. The images show the abundance of the upper classes, including the banker whose servants are pictured here about to serve dinner at a country home. Historically, the number of servants has long been equated to the status of the household, more help reflects greater importance. One of the most extravagant displays of status through food was the royal court of the French King Louis XIV at Versailles outside Paris. Watch an excerpt from a film by Roberto Rossellini, La Prise du Pouvoir par Louis XIV aka The Rise of Louis XIV (1966) that recreates the dinner service of Louis XIV. The excerpt is in French with English subtitles. Note how many cooks and servants are required to serve one man. In our own times, have you noticed how food can communicate status? at parties? weddings? or even picnics?  Post an example of how food can be make a social statement.

Watch the excerpt from Rossellini’s film here.



1 thought on “Homework #4: Food and Status in History

  1. Speaking from experience from working in the service industry, specifically the restaurant industry i know that it takes the entire restaurant to work as a team to satisfy a group of guests. It starts off with the hosts and his/her greeting. It has to be warm and welcoming. I have yet to work in fine dining but i can only imagine how much more of a big deal it is for everything to be perfect. I work for a company called Bareburger, nothing fancy but like every other business we’re expected to excel. We all must make an impression on our guests from the host to the cook to the owner of the whole entire thing. Being on point is crucial leaving minimal room for mistakes. I few years ago i went on a seven day cruise which was one of the best times i’ve ever had! I gained about seven pounds on this cruise, one for each day i was on it lol it was just food 24/7. However, dinner time was particularly special because we were expected to be in our nicest outfits ready to enjoy our meal and be served by professionals. The dining room was HUGE. It was 1-2 servers per table. Each server had a certain job whether it was taking care of drink orders or appetizers and even freshly baked bread that was put on our table every night before our five course meal. It was amazing. I ate things i’ve never even thought of trying like strawberry soup! You ever had strawberry soup? It was also my first time trying Tiramisu, it was delicious! I want to say that food can communicate status but theres always a place and time for it. You’d expect that from a cruise in which you spent a little over 1k(without airfare) so yeah, i would say so. When you’re spending that kind of money you’d expect to get what you paid for like steak, lobster, and strawberry soup!

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