Places of Consumption

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Author: Doric Little
Editor: Solomon H. Katz
Date: 2003
Encyclopedia of Food and Culture
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 6
Content Level: (Level 3)

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PLACES OF CONSUMPTION. A discussion of places of consumption should begin where food has been consumed since the beginning of humankind, in the home. In the twenty-first century in most countries the home remains the primary location for eating. That is not to say that the nature of the food eaten in the home has remained constant or that the preparation of the food has not changed. Even the formality and regularity of dining in the home was altered in the twentieth century.

During the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century in the United States, dining at home was usually regular (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and occurred at the kitchen table or in the dining room. Food was often seasonal. The heaviest meal (dinner) was at noon or, if the breadwinner worked outside the home, in the evening. If the lighter meal occurred at night, it was called supper. The fare did not include a great deal of variety.

The improvement in the means of transporting food and people as well as the advancements in preservation markedly increased the places of consumption and the types of food consumed in much of the world. With modern transportation and refrigeration in mind, this overview examines places where people eat, starting with the contemporary home, moving to the world of work, touching upon the varying modes of travel and places where people play, and concluding with the increasingly vast array of dining-out possibilities.

The Home

The sit-down meal three times a day at set times is disappearing. Although such mealtimes happen, they are becoming a rarity in technologically advanced societies, where mothers and fathers work and children come and go more freely. The family eats when there is time and often not together. Dress is casual. People eat at the
The interior of a typical nineteenth-century Viennese restaurant by artist Karl Josef Richard Zajicek. © ARCHIVO ICONOGRAFICO, S.A./CORBIS. The interior of a typical nineteenth-century Viennese restaurant by artist Karl Josef Richard Zajicek. © ARCHIVO ICONOGRAFICO, S.A./CORBIS. Page 86  |  Top of Article kitchen counter, in a breakfast nook, in front of a television, in bed, on the porch, on a patio, on a lanai, or in the yard. The dining table has become a catchall that is only cleared for company. Food is seldom prepared from "scratch." More often than not the food is semiprepared in the cupboard, the refrigerator, or the freezer. Ready-to-eat meals are found in supermarkets and delicatessens.

The mainstay of the diet in the United States and most other countries of the world, is the sandwich, which competes with the rice ball in Asia. It can be prepared quickly and can be eaten in any room or while walking. Traditionally, bread forms the basis of the meal, but the tortilla wrap is making inroads. Fillings vary, and the most common in the United States are peanut butter and jelly, tuna, meat slices, and cheese. Each of these fillings alone may form the basis of the sandwich, or each may be combined with one another, other fillings, vegetables, and condiments.

Take-out meals may be purchased from most restaurants, and ethnic foods, such as Chinese, Thai, and Mexican, are especially popular in the United States. Pizza is a favorite either ordered and delivered or frozen ready to heat and eat. Barbecues are frequent in sunny climates and are not unusual in colder ones, where the cook must bundle up to prepare the main course.

Entertaining at home is usually informal. The dining table, kitchen counter, or cooking island may serve as a buffet table. While complete meals may be served, "heavy" hors d'oeuvres are not uncommon because guests can consume their meals standing. If dinner guests are seated for a traditional meal, the number invited is usually limited to one or two couples. This is not the case for family gatherings, when substantial meals are served and guests find seating either at a large table or throughout the house.

In sum, whether preparing food for the family or for guests, contemporary home cooking utilizes the many available shortcuts to delicious cuisine. It should be noted that worldwide the less advanced the society, the more traditional the meals at home.

The Workplace

For most of the workers of the world, lunch is the meal most frequently consumed at work. Traditionally it was brought to work in a paper sack or a lunch pail. Among blue-collar and white-collar workers the principle source of nourishment was the sandwich. In Asian countries the rice ball was most common. While this custom continues to some extent in the twenty-first century among blue-collar workers, white-collar workers generally purchase their lunches either in the workplace or nearby.

White-collar workers usually work in office buildings with many other personnel. Frequently the company that employs them provides a cafeteria or food machines for their convenience. A lunchroom is usually available with hot and cold running water, a refrigerator, and a microwave. Executives often have their own dining room, which comes with a dress code, a view, a higher cost, and presumably better food. Until the late twentieth century it was expected that food would be consumed away from the desk. This custom has been relaxed, and many office employees are allowed and encouraged to eat while working through their lunch hours.

Office workers have food choices outside their buildings. Many restaurants cater to the lunch crowd and offer quick service and specials. In areas where the work population is not so large and the location is more remote, lunch trucks service the workers. As in the office building, dress for the most part is working attire. Many blue-collar workers may bring their lunches because, particularly with construction workers, sites vary and the nature of the work produces a real appetite. Factories usually provide cafeterias, and lunch trucks are regular fixtures.

In the United States coffee is considered a necessity at any place of work. The coffee break is usually for fifteen minutes midmorning and midafternoon, even if the food consumed is tea, soda, or a snack. In a traditional office coffee was consumed in a break room. By the late twentieth century it was most likely enjoyed at a desk. Whether fresh-brewed or freeze-dried, coffee is provided when possible, often twenty-four hours a day. If that is impossible, most workers bring their own in appropriately insulated containers. While work sites around the world have similar customs, some substitute tea, and the younger generation prefers soft drinks.

Some work sites are so remote or removed from modern technology that food consumption requires high-tech preparation. The U.S. military frequently runs into this situation when its troops are in the field. The dried food of the past has been replaced by meals ready to eat (MRE). Whether eaten in a jungle or a desert, the MRE has generally received a positive response. Astronauts also dine in outer space on compacted and nonperishable food. Interestingly, advances made for consumption in these unusual sites have found their way into the modern home as convenience foods.

Some workers earn their living by driving, and they find restaurants along the highways as well as in the towns and cities they drive through. Although truck drivers can eat in their trucks, many of them want to get out of their drivers' seats and park their long, cumbersome vehicles. Consequently a place of consumption was created just for them, the truck stop. Known for its large portions, filling food, and affordable prices, the truck stop services truckers and other travelers interested in a casual yet substantial meal.

Many jobs are combined with travel, and the next section overlaps travel for work with travel for leisure. Like consumption at home, consumption at work reflects modern society. Even the more primitive cultures have access to some type of refrigeration and dehydration, making for a more varied working diet.

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The earliest form of travel was by foot. The fare was simple, was carried in a knapsack, and was eaten on the trail. Hiking is no longer a necessity, but it is a popular activity throughout the world. The variety of edibles contained in the backpack would astound early travelers. Trail mix, a popular edible designed for eating while walking, has appeared on grocery shelves for general consumption. Overnight camping can be high tech and effortless, but many hikers prefer cooking over an open fire for taste, smell, and aesthetics.

The modern automobile comes equipped with holders designed to facilitate consumption. Many workers carry a travel mug containing their hot or cold beverage of choice in the car for consumption on the way to work. Those who choose not to brew at home find convenient drive-ins featuring breakfasts and hot beverages. This continues through the day and evening as drive-ins and restaurants compete for automobile or roadside diners. Travelers by car have a food treat not afforded other modes, the roadside fruit and vegetable stand. Travelers may stop at the side of the road and enjoy the fruit or juice of the region. Eating in the car has become so common that Americans have developed a slogan, "Friends don't let friends eat and drive." The campaign is not likely to be effective because around the world the automobile is an exceedingly popular place of consumption.

Travel by air has prompted two places of consumption, the airport and the airplane. Airplane travelers expect food on long flights, although expectations are not high, even in first class. Perhaps because of the reputation of airplane fare, many passengers eat before boarding or buy food at the airport to eat in flight. Airports often feature regional cuisine that offers the traveler one last chance to enjoy a local dish, albeit an expensive one.

One of the lures to travel by train was the dining car. Trains around the world offered white tablecloths and the appearance of fine dining. While a few specialty routes offered fine fare and required passengers to dress accordingly, on most twenty-first century trains clothing is casual, and food is adequate. It is usually the view passing the window that makes dining on the train memorable. Like the airport, the train station offers food for immediate consumption or for the trip. Prices are more reasonable than at most airports. The food is varied, and in some locations, such as Union Station in Washington, D.C., and Grand Central Station in New York City, the station is a destination for dining, not just travel.

Travel by water also provides eating opportunities. Whether by ferry or luxury liner, food is available en route. Ferries usually offer drinks and snacks. Hot beverages are especially appreciated in colder climates. Luxury liners offer fine cuisine with appropriate attire and manners. Most cruise ships offer opportunities for more casual dining too. Passengers wishing an informal trip by water choose a freighter, often by its reputation for providing tasty food. In the Western world, yachts and small boats come with small kitchens. Eastern vessels may lack the kitchen but carry a small charcoal grill onboard. Traveling by sea seems to stimulate the appetite, even on the brief dinner cruise.

Whether traveling by foot, air, train, or boat, the modern traveler expects food and gets it. Of the four the traveler by boat is probably the best fed. Each mode may offer a splendid vista to gaze upon while consuming food. Of all the food consumers, travelers have the most exotic places of consumption.


All work and no play is an old adage. Since the beginning of recorded history, the consumption of food has been an important component of play. This section features the variety of places where people eat and play, starting with some of the older pastimes still popular in the twenty-first century.

Fairs began as an annual event to celebrate the foods, crafts, entertainment, athletic prowess, and livestock of a given locale. Fairs have expanded to encompass states, countries, and the world. Food, such as candied apples and cotton candy, and the smells of barnyards and sawdust floors are unforgettable memories of many fairgoers. Fairs are not dress-up occasions in part because they are usually outdoor events held in temporary structures and tents.

The circus and later the carnival grew out of the fair. Both were situated out of doors and provided food for participants, notably popcorn, peanuts in the shell, and caramel corn. Today, there are fewer carnivals, and circuses have moved indoors. They have largely been replaced by television and theme parks. One outgrowth of the circus that seems here to stay and is found worldwide is the food circus, a grouping of food stalls featuring foods from around the world that can be enjoyed indoors and outdoors from Seattle to Singapore.

Athletic prowess has been celebrated by itself , as the long history of the Olympic Games testifies. Sports stadiums and arenas are traditional sites for food consumption. Baseball celebrates its memorable edibles—peanuts and cracker jack—in song. These staples have expanded to include hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut and regional favorites such as tacos in the West and saimin in Hawaii. Other team competitions, such as football and soccer, include a variety of hearty snacks, regional treats, and lots of beer. The tailgate party precedes football games across the United States. With a distinctive regional flavor, food is often prepared adjacent to the car in the parking lot over hot coals and is shared with other sports enthusiasts. The lazy tailgater can find tailgate fare to go in the city.

The younger set also enjoys eating at the sites of their baseball, football, or soccer games. They do not provide the food, their parents do. More often than not the parents arrange a potluck. That way each family contributes, Page 88  |  Top of Article
Dining in shaded pavilions by cool pools of water has been a recurring theme in the history of Middle Eastern eating habits. This inviting enclosure is located at the Palace of Nerenjestan in Iran. © CORBIS. Dining in shaded pavilions by cool pools of water has been a recurring theme in the history of Middle Eastern eating habits. This inviting enclosure is located at the Palace of Nerenjestan in Iran. © CORBIS. and all share in the bounty. Athletic events seem to increase appetites and expand the places of consumption.

The street vendor has always existed around the world, in industrialized and developing countries. The food on each cart is limited, regional, and usually cooked at the site, and in underdeveloped countries it is often of questionable sanitation. For the brave the taste is delicious, but the suffering afterward may be keen. Tourist destinations, such as temples, museums, and historic sites, often offer an edible specialty of the area. It may have begun with priests and monks preparing food for the weary travelers. However, modern tourists expect to be able to purchase a drink or a snack upon reaching their destinations. If there is a specialty item to eat, some find it as exciting as the monument.

Natural beauty attracts visitors. Mountains, ocean beaches, deserts, lakes, and nature's curiosities draw crowds. With the crowds, opportunities to eat appear. When the sites are made into national or state parks, some aesthetic control is established. If not, places of consumption can be unattractive to the eye and to the palate as well as a distraction from the beautiful scenery.

The movie theater has carried on the popcorn tradition. Popcorn and soda are musts for most movie-goers. Twenty-first century theaters, like cars, provide holders for drinks. Theaters must be swept after performances to remove the litter caused by moviegoers eating in the dark.

Walt Disney created the theme park, and with its advent came new places of consumption. Within the theme park are restaurants, fast-food facilities, and vendors. As theme parks developed into adventure parks, the places of consumption continued to grow.

Many enjoy an opera, concert, or play. Unlike their neighbors at the movies or athletic events, they cannot eat during the production. They are offered an intermission, when wine, beer, or snacks may be purchased, but they must not be taken back into the theater or concert hall.

For many throughout the world, shopping is an enjoyable leisure-time activity, of which food is an important part. Shopping malls are replete with food to be eaten seated or while walking. Shopping centers offer family-style restaurants and fast food. Department stores often devote a floor to eating establishments. While grocery stores may offer free promotional samples, large wholesale food chains offer so many samples that customers can and do make a meal of the shopping expedition. Little doubt exists that eating and playing go hand in hand around the world.

Dining Out

The consumption of food in the home is more traditional in less-advanced societies, but highly technological societies have a vast array of dining-out opportunities and increasingly take advantage of them. This section introduces the myriad possibilities. The discussion is arranged from the most formal dining to the least and concludes with some special sites where food is consumed.

The finest dining, measured by expense and formality, usually occurs in large cities around the world. Such locations have dress codes that require men to wear suits or sport coats and ties. Women are monitored as well but, because of the nature of female attire, not as closely. In the most exclusive establishments, one must be appropriately attired to dine. Expensive but less-exclusive places offer men a "house" sport coat or tie. The emphasis on fine clothing is matched by the dress of and attention provided by the entire house staff, the quality of the china and tableware, the reputation of the chef, and most importantly the cuisine.

To afford the ultimate in exclusivity, private dining clubs are located around the world in major cities. Traditionally these were for men only. While this is no longer the case in the United States due to sexual discrimination Page 89  |  Top of Article laws, it remains a phenomenon elsewhere around the world. Private dining clubs are often affiliated with a leisure pastime, such as tennis, golf, or yachting. Patrons of these clubs usually have dining areas where they may eat in the attire of the sport. However, on special evenings the dress code can be formal. In private clubs the places of consumption are attractive to the eye, are furnished with style, and offer a view if possible. Interestingly, the restaurant with the finest view seldom serves the finest food. Nonetheless fine dining usually means the finest money can buy.

The moderately priced restaurant is found worldwide. In the United States it is often a franchise with set menus and standardized ingredients. Whether serving families or corporately owned businesses, medium-priced restaurants are found wherever people congregate or travel. They offer food of the region and food from locations far away. In the United States the foods of China, Mexico, Italy, Thailand, and Vietnam abound. In fact, Chinese food or something resembling it is available throughout the world.

Dress codes are not restricted to fine dining establishments. Medium-priced restaurants in beach locations often require a shirt and footwear other than rubber sandals. Shorts may be banned for both sexes. These restaurant owners obviously believe that the attire of the patrons is part of the ambiance of their places of business.

Outdoor dining is not as commonplace in the United States as it is in Europe and many countries in Asia. These establishments, called cafés, are generally located along city streets and offer dining inside and out. Coffee is always on the menu, and a cup of it alone can offer the patron an hour or two of street watching.

Specialty coffee shops serving latte, espresso, and cappuccino are popular places of consumption worldwide. Students study in them, senior citizens visit in them, and professionals dash in and out for a caffeine hit. The cost of both the coffee and the food sold therein is anything but cheap.

Around the world, bars and pubs (the word "tavern" is disappearing) are places to drink, to eat, and to congregate with friends. For many the neighborhood bar is a home away from home. While classic food items like pigs' feet and hard-boiled eggs may still be offered, hearty sandwiches and salty snacks are the norm. Visiting the sports bar with its wide-screen television is almost as good as going to the game itself. Some would argue that it is better.

In the technologically advanced twenty-first century people are in a hurry. Food is often eaten on the run. As a result, fast food eateries have flourished, especially in the United States, in every city, town, and village and along most highways. They are apt to be franchised with standard fare. Patrons may eat inside in clean, colorful, sparse, and plastic surroundings or, more the norm, may take their food home, to another site, or consume it in the car. The items most frequently offered include hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, and a standardized version of Mexican food.

The drive-in restaurant appeared in the 1950s in the United States and afforded Americans a place to be waited on and to eat in the car. This novelty, just like the drive-in movie, has worn off and almost disappeared. It has been replaced by the drive-thru. The drive-thru offers fast food and is most often found in conjunction with a fast-food restaurant. However, depending on the part of the country, it may offer specialty items. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the drive-thru latte abounds.

Caterers allow people to consume food in many locations where food is not prepared. Some examples are botanical gardens, meeting halls, aquariums, and outdoor sites. Many occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, showers, graduations, weddings, awards banquets, and even funerals, are celebrated with food. While they may be held in restaurants, many are catered in a variety of locales.

Whether dining in an automobile, a bar, or a bed, people around the world consume food several times a day. They appear to be limited in location only by their imaginations and the availability of food. Seldom does either limitation present a barrier to the consumer in the twenty-first century.


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Doric Little

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3403400479