Deciphering a Meal – Honouring Mary Douglas

Sometimes at home, hoping to simplify the cooking, I ask, “Would
you like to have just soup for supper tonight? I mean a
good thick soup?
instead of supper. It’s late and you must be hungry. It won’t take a minute
to serve.” Then an
argument starts: “Let’s have soup now, and supper
when you are ready.” “No no, to serve two meals would be more work.
But if you like, why not start with the soup and fill up with pudding?”
“Good heavens! What sort of a meal is that? A beginning and an end and no
middle.” “Oh, all right then, have the soup as it’s there, and I’ll do a
Welsh rarebit as well.” When they have eaten soup, Welsh rarebit, pud
ding, and cheese: “What a lot of plates. Why do you make such elaborate
suppers?” They proceed to argue that by taking thought I could satisfy the
full requirements of a meal with a
single, copious dish. Several rounds of
this conversation have given me a practical interest in the categories and
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62 MARY DOUGLAS
meanings of food. I needed to know what defines the category of a meal
in our home.
T