“I think I would like porridge for dessert,” beamed the lady to the man standing beside her table. It was with a look of mystification that he returned to the kitchen, having acceded to the idea. Was porridge for dessert at lunchtime such a strange request, though?
Many children would be comfortable with the idea of eating breakfast cereal at differing hours of the day. With the availability in our home of fresh farm milk in the 1960s and 1970s, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes would have been eaten for breakfast, and might have provided a snack after school, and would have been a welcome supper before we went to bed.
Perhaps such idiosyncrasies are acceptable among children but are not expected of those who are of more mature years; perhaps we are expected to reach an age where we eat the right things at the right time of the day. Or perhaps it is not so much a question of maturity, as one of culture.
Is the idea that particular foods belong to a particular time of day a modern innovation peculiar to Anglo-Saxon countries? Poor people’s fare in times past differed little from one time of day to another, it would be whatever could be bought with the meagre wages that were received; in England, much of the diet would have been bread, in Ireland potatoes, and similarly, elsewhere, whatever the staple foodstuff might be. Go to much of sub-Saharan Africa, and it is still the case that a single foodstuff forms much of the daily diet.
In Northern Europe, affluence doesn’t mean an adherence to the idea that particular foods may only be eaten at particular times of the day. The meats and cheeses that may appear on a breakfast table may be equally welcomed at lunchtime, or at the evening meal. In France, baguettes will invariably appear three times a day. Why should it seem so odd that someone would request porridge as dessert at lunchtime? Had they had a fried breakfast and then a bowl of porridge that morning, it would not have seemed a strange menu; in the middle of the day, the oats seem a reflection of an eccentric palate.
Have our tastes been shaped by marketing? Have we become victims of advertisements that tell us to eat certain things at certain times? Do the sales of particular products depend on them having particular associations? If it is the case that media advertising has determined the patterns of our food, then eating porridge at lunchtime may be a strongly counter-cultural statement (or may just be the wish of an odd old lady).