Last week we talked about a special regional dish and event, chicken stew. This week, I’ve been pondering the regional differences in what we call our meal times. Breakfast is breakfast wherever you go, but there are some differences in what many of us call the midday meal and the evening meal. Around these parts, a lot of you call the noon meal dinner. In other places, dinner is served in the evening and lunch is served around midday.
I think my mamma thought I had become too uppity when I started asking “what’s for dinner?” referring to the evening meal. “It’s supper,” she’d correct me.
I polled my friends and found that many of them use the words dinner and supper interchangeably to refer to the evening meal. But calling the midday meal dinner rather than lunch can cause confusion for some.
My friend Mary, who grew up in Michigan, said she ran into just this sort of problem once while visiting family farther south.
“I once planned a visit to my Georgia family and made the mistake of telling them I would be there at dinner time,” Mary said. “I showed up at 5 p.m. thinking I was early, and my uncle was more than annoyed that I had not been there at noon!”
The more I have pondered this difference I have decided that this difference in what we call these meals may relate not only to region, but to generation as well.
I think my friend Bridget hit the nail on the head with what she was taught by her Michigan grandmother about the names of these meals.
“It depends on which is bigger,” Bridget explained. “The bigger meal would be dinner. If the lighter meal is at noon, it is lunch. If the lighter meal is in the evening, it is supper.”
In the busy agricultural days, especially in rural communities, folks would take a break around midday and eat a large meal, known as dinner. Nowadays, most of us have to grab a quick lunch on the go and the larger meal is typically served in the evening.
My good friend Bill at The Mount Airy News concurred that this dinner versus supper debate is both generational and related to the size of the meal being served.
“I think that the midday dinner and early evening supper was correct terminology a few generations ago when this was an agricultural society and a big meal in the middle of the day was needed to provide energy for the afternoon of hard manual labor and since they went to bed at dark, a big evening meal wasn’t necessary,” he said.
According to dictionary.com, this is right on target.
“Supper is a light evening meal — served in early evening if dinner is at midday or served late in the evening after an early-evening dinner. Either way, it is regarded as the last meal of the day. Dinner is the main meal of the day, served either in the evening or at midday. However, in certain regions of the US (New England in particular), the words are used interchangeably for the main evening meal. Supper is the older word, dating to c. 1275, and is the less formal term. Dinner dates to 1297 and signifies the chief meal of the day, no matter what time it is served, and is a formally arranged meal, sometimes given to celebrate something or in honor of someone. Both terms derived from similarly spelled French words.”
I like this notation in the dictionary definition about dinner being more formal. That is my opinion as well. If it’s a planned meal and you’ve invited friends or family over or plan to go out to eat somewhere nice, it’s dinner. If it’s a plain old evening meal at home, it’s supper.
Do you have an interesting recipe or food-related story? I’d love to hear about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-518-3049.
Kitsey Burns Harrison is a reporter for The Yadkin Ripple, here she shares her musings on food, life and love. She can be reached at 336-518-3049 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.