Breakfast: A History

Cover of Breakfast: A History by Heather Arndt Anderson 

Breakfast: A History
Heather Arndt Anderson
AltaMira Press, 2013

The most important meal of the day… never used to be. The breaking of the fast often started later in the day, with most people eating only two meals (dinner and supper, which later became lunch and dinner, and is a whole convoluted discussion in and of itself, based on where you live), and little, if anything first thing in the morning.

Heather Arndt Anderson traces the history of breakfast throughout the ages, touching on Roman times, the Middle Ages and into the Victorian era and finally modern day, detailing the changes in scheduling, attitudes, and foodstuffs consumed. She looks at breakfasts around the world, those cooked and eaten at home, breakfast eaten out at restaurants and hotels, and breakfast in the arts and media.

While Anderson is a sharp and witty writer, and offers up some amusing stories and anecdotes, I’m not sure this is a topic that needs a whole book. The subject matter got a bit repetitive at points — after all, in North America, breakfast is usually fairly traditional, and the differences in the breakfast offering at a hotel versus a bed and breakfast are negligible. Once you get past being aghast at just how much the Victorians and Edwardians could pack away first thing in the morning (a whole leg of mutton for breakfast? Why not?), and the amusement of the Kellogg brothers’ bickering, stuff does get a bit redundant. Breakfast deals with the mid-century marketing of sugary cereal to kids, but what current book about modern foodways hasn’t?

I skipped most of the final chapter on breakfast in the Arts and Media, as the connections for most of the examples seemed superfluous at best. For instance, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which Anderson mentions in a list of films with “breakfast” in the title, had virtually nothing to do with breakfast except for the first scene where Holly Golightly eats a danish outside of Tiffany’s in the early morning. (An incidental fact not mentioned in the book – Audrey Hepburn hated danishes.)

Having said all that, I didn’t dislike this work, and would give it a solid 3.5 out of 5 if I was giving a starred review. It was full of the nerdy facts that food history keeners like myself revel in, and I think it added to the overall understanding of food and society that make for good cultural theory writing.

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