Brunch: A History

Brunch at the Wolseley in London taken by photographer: Travis VandeBerg

 

Can a decadent Sunday afternoon meal have a history filled with optics, class distinctions and gender identity? Yes! Says Farha Ternikar at recent lecture I attended for her book, Brunch: A History  that was sponsored by the New School and the Culinary Historians of New York. 

 

 

Food tells a story and I love someone who studies it from every angle. Farha Ternikar is an associate professor of Sociology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse and teaches Food and Culture, Gender and Society, and the Sociology of Food. She indicates that brunch has its roots in the Huntsman parties that the upper classes would engage in England. They were a carnivore's delight and lacking in the pancake and waffle brunches we know if today. Brunch was born as a modern meal of leisure for those who could afford it.

 

The first cities in the US that Brunch began to be popular was in New York City at Delmonico's and in New Orleans (where the french influence may have born the first pancake). Ternikar describes three waves of brunch trends that began in the 1930s when cocktails were first introduced at brunch coinciding with Prohibition and interestingly was the meal that made it acceptable for woman to drink in public. It also became the meal for professional woman.

 

In the 1950s, cookbooks encouraging woman to make Brunch so to make their lives more "convenient" via making only two meal on weekend rather than 3. In 1969, Helen Gurley Brown discusses Brunch in her book for women "The Single GirlsCookbook" spoke about how to cook for her "overnight" guest. Very sexy for the times and even though I don't think modern Cosmo is cutting edge anymore--Ms. Brown certainly shook things up. By the 70s, the meal got a littly cheesy with Fondue and Potluck and then really lavish in the consumer consumption of the 80s when pancake houses like IHOP and Denny's ran rampant. But it was still a very class-distinct enjoyed by those with disposable income. In the 90s, the afternoon meal became ethnic--with dishes like huevos rancheros and spread globally to other countries as well. 

 

Recently, brunch spots can also be a sign of gentrification and the New York Times article by David Shaftel, "Brunch is for Jerks", caused a a stir, as did the recent "Black Brunch Protests" to protesting African American killed by the police. Protest chose these brunch spots because they were identified by protesters as predominantly “white spaces".

 

Ternikar also touches upon the still gendered view of brunch as being a meal for couples for woman and that two heterosexual men may still find it uncomfortable to go to lunch and eat waffles together. Quite funny yet sadly true. "What is the future of brunch?" Ternikar asks. Well, my wish is that every man or woman of any race, or sexual orientation or amalgam of the aforementioned can sit and have a boozy brunch, then go home and take nap.

 

Find Farha Ternikar's book  Brunch: A History here!

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