[2Minute Tease] Breakfast and national identity 

By Tom Linas

Like thousands of others in the UK, I like Weetabix in the morning. Each day I join a shuffling mass of sleepy cereal munchers, largely unaware that my routine is being copied by thousands across the country. The collective experience of our Weetabix consumption forms what Benedict Anderson would call an ‘imagined community’.

FOOD PRACTICES ARE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT WAYS IN WHICH INDIVIDUALS CAN EXPRESS NATIONAL IDENTITY.

Imagined communities are the foundation of culinary nationalism – people can develop a shared sense of identity by celebrating their history and distinguishing their culture from others through the preparation of national dishes. My interest in the relationship between food and collective identity had begun at the breakfast table, so I compared the typical breakfasts of Northern Ireland, Mexico and France: the ‘Ulster Fry’, ‘Huevos Rancheros’ and ‘tartine et café’, focusing on their different uses of bread as a means of comparison.

Two of the Ulster Fry’s main ingredients, soda and potato bread, were popularised in Northern Ireland because of the country’s lack of quality wheat, meaning for centuries only unleavened bread could be baked there.

Unleavened corn bread, in the form of the tortilla, is the basis of Mexico’s Huevos Rancheros. Such was importance of the tortilla to Mexican domestic life that until the twentieth century a woman could not marry until she had mastered its production

Bread is perhaps most central to French breakfast where toast washed down with coffee is traditionally all that is eaten. Indeed, use of the phrase ‘petit-dejeuner’ or ‘little lunch’ to refer to breakfast, seems to underline a national agreement that large meals cannot take place before midday.

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol