It is hard to pinpoint when the custom of community meals changed, but for me
the landmark time seems something like the fall of 1957, which of course means that
for many who will read this, it must seem like this is the way it always was done.
Perhaps it might be useful to consider some background in this matter. Eating is
one of the most life sustaining events in our lives and we have associated with this
simple function, a very complex set of parameters and conventions. We tend to share
There are many reasons for this, but being a social being seems to be pretty close
to the top of the list. Biblical terms like "breaking bread together" are
a part of our culture and in fact, shared with all members of our species. "Sharing"
a meal is a dramatic and significant bond between people. It is no coincidence that
"doing lunch" has produced some of the most important business deals of
all time and with ever significant event in our lives, a meal is the main experience.
I and many others point out that it is the best way to measure the quality of any
event whether it be a hockey game, a trip, a stay in a hotel, a visit to some friend
or relative. The experience can be qualified and rated by "how was the food?"
We use food to put relationships of all kinds together, gifts of special foods,
a special meal, a simple candy, all of these define a person's response to another
on the most basic level. When I think of my father and all the things we have done
together, the most endearing thing about him was his practice of occasionally stuffing
cookies in his jacket pocket and if I happened along he would offer me one. His snack,
shared with me, indicated he would sacrifice and provide for me, just as we are all
attached to our mothers, for it was she who placed those meals on the table before
Sharing a meal in a big extended family, around a large dinning room table or
sometimes with children's tables as well, is an art form and it is also a connection
between us. In our family it was a Sunday tradition and with distance, it is now
an event more for holidays, but those times are so important.
In rural Saskatchewan the sharing of a meal with members of the community was
not restricted to weddings and funerals but every event would have a lunch which
in most cases was a full meal. A Saturday night dance in a country school always
had a fabulous lunch near midnight and every community event of any importance had
a sit down dinner. The main thing about the little country fairs here and throughout
Saskatchewan are the meals served and shared at them. The food and the social experience
while eating is something that brings us and has always brought us, together.
Each year communities, churches and clubs hold fall suppers. This is a wonderful
practice that has been with us since people began living here. (Aboriginal, First
Nations people have elaborate and a rich heritage of "feasting" and anyone
who has experience their hospitality will readily witness the change it has had upon
them.) As a child in the fifties, I remember these events and how everyone would
crowd around long rows of tables in one room schools and church basements and share
in miraculous meals. We still do this, but there is a difference and that is what
this article is about.
The first "buffet" I saw was probably in the fall of 1957. I have no way
of knowing where the custom had originated but it was as foreign as for me to use
chop sticks. I can vividly recall my mother, who was never one to hide her opinions,
being quite miffed at the process and would for some years there after after, refer
to meals served in such a manner in definitely negative terms. The practice was always
to "share" the food. Platters, bowls and even roasters were placed on the
tables in a pattern and everyone sat down to the meal and the "food was passed
around". Just as it would be around the family table, a "sit down"
meal. Conversation and banter could flow as things were moved around, the process
of sharing was emphasised and you relied on each other and good manners to "pass
the potatoes" or "perhaps we could have some buns down here".
The buffet is as uncivilised as livestock at a oat bin in the barn, or in the pen
beside it, yet this practice has been with us now for decades, so that almost everyone
considers it the only way to do things. When there are more people then table space,
we even do it in our own homes with "family". We are missing something
here and size of gatherings does not matter.
Between Kennedy and Kipling in Saskatchewan's South East, there is a Presbyterian
Hungarian community called Beckavar. As a child I can remember being at several weddings
at their huge hall. Johnny and Joe Yukaz, my cousin Ken and there were others, these
were events a person would not forget. The food was just slightly exotic to my English
background and just thinking of it has me licking my lips. Mashed potatoes in wash
tubs or preserving boilers, whole legs of beef, pastries as light as feathers piled
on platters the size of a croakinow board glistening white with icing sugar. Johnny
and Joe's weddings were huge affairs with perhaps three hundred people. And everyone,
moms, dads, kids and aging uncles and aunts, all sat down together, and "passed
Size and convenience have nothing to do with the emergence of this weird and cold
buffet custom, but rather detachment is at the root of this sustaining custom. You
stand in line like cows waiting for the bull and horned prime animals to take there
turn at the food table, then you make your way to your eating place where nothing
is "passed", you can make polite conversation but if not, fine. This is
not the way things were or should be. If you are planning a supper, remember what
fall suppers once were and put the food on the table and let folks "pass the