Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Roasted and The Boiled

My last post about John James' complaints might shed some light upon the mediocrity of 18th century Oxbridge food, but it seems like sometimes, dear readers, the food got so bad that students felt compelled to take matters into their own hands.  In 1748, a war erupted between a group of students at Queens College in Oxford, who were dissatisfied with the meat served in the college dining hall, and the stodgy old fellows who sought to discipline them.
The scene of the Crime: Queens College Dining Hall
On May 6, 1748, the students formally complained about the boiled meat served at the commoner's table, which, so they claimed, "had often been bad before."  Finding no sympathy among the fellows, however, the hungry students decided to boycott the mid-day dinner the next day, "despairing of meeting with any thing fit to eat there," although they came back for supper in the evening to avoid charges of an open rebellion.  The boycott carried on for a week.

The Fellows' rebuttal, however, painted a different picture.  They claimed the students' actions occurred not "to desire a Redress of any Grievance from the Badness of the Meat, but to request an Alteration in the Method of dressing it or cutting it."

After all, the fellows pointed out, it was rather suspicious that the students boycotted their mid-day dinners, which happened to be serving boiled beef, but still hung around for supper, when roast beef was on the bill of fare.  And if the complaints were simply about taste, rather than a question of edibility, the fellows saw no need to heed them.

But how do we know who was in the right?  Was the meat genuinely bad?  Or was the whole affair concocted as a ruse to inject some much needed variety into the undergraduate diet?  Either way, the conflict betrays an important question; where is the tipping point whereby a matter of taste is transformed into a much larger struggle for agency and authority?

Stay tuned, my inquisitive readers, for more posts on this matter are forthcoming.