i blog with words at theblogosfear and its tumblr counterpart & do other things at catafalques.

i’m really into public mourning and public displays of grief and it’s so interesting to see how it’s transposed onto social networking in the ~internet age~. my elderly aunt who was just diagnosed with end stage cancer died this morning, and my cousin made a status on facebook and tagged the now-dead woman in it, and she’s not the only one—so many posts just popped up of ‘[X] with [elderly aunt]’ or ‘[X] feeling sad' followed with a standard RIP, 'i'll love you and miss you' message. 

i’ve seen so much of this when someone who had an internet presence dies; how facebook almost acts as a funeral or cemetery, with people leaving their condolences and expressing their own grief. facebook used to, i don’t know if they still do, turn accounts into memorial pages upon death if contacted by family, but even if an account isn’t turned people still return to leave comments on birthdays especially, but every now and then you see a comment out of nowhere of someone who was thinking about the deceased who used facebook, rather than their grave, as their medium to talk to them.

does it make it impersonal to say ‘i think of you all the time and miss you so much’ somewhere everyone else who is friends with the dead person can see it? do people take that into account when they leave comments? if they do take it into account and don’t feel comfortable, do they send private messages instead? do young people go to cemeteries or just visit the dead on facebook? how deeply does the internet influence the way people process grief? 

[…] Foods shift places in the hierarchy of social acceptability with bewildering ease and rapidity. Sometimes, the shift is induced by changes in availability: factory farming in the twentieth century stripped chicken of all rarity value in the Western world. Oysters and cod, on the other hand, leapt up the social scale as their breeding grounds shrank. Sometimes, the mere mechanisms of fashion are responsible: celebrity endorsement, novelty value, the oscillations of chic. Even slow changes-or those discernible to us only over long periods-surprise us by their scale. Educated palates in ancient Rome craved viscous textures: the prestige of pigs’ glands and jowls, gelatinous feet, liver engorged by hypertrophy, fungi, tongues, head cheese, brains, sweetbreads, testicles, udders, wombs, marrow: the prestige of these foods is incontestably confirmed not only by the frequency with which they appear in surviving recipes but also by the fact that almost all of them became subjects of sumptuary laws. Foie gras was already a delicacy in the time of Homer, to judge from Penelope’s pride in the “twenty geese I have at home, eating wheat soaked in water.” For an elite experience, Roman eaters had to burrow deep in offal. This preference was never hlly revived when the Renaissance restored Roman cuisine, and offal has remained, until recently, poor people’s food. In modern Emilia and Romagna, according to reports in the 1g6os,”there is a sharp decline in the consumption of offal or ‘trimmings’ like tripe, tongue, sweetbreads and filoni (spinal cords); the grilled treccine (plaits) of lambs’ guts and the omelettes of lamb bottoni (testicles)-traditionally eaten on Easter Eve in Romagna-have become almost clandestine delights.” Now, however, chefs bent on retrieving traditional cuisines are renewing the chic of tongues and testicles, brains and head cheese, tripes and trotters. Foie gras and calves liver were formerly exceptional-licensed lusciousness which was admitted at refined tables because it was always expensive to produce. Other organ meats remained cheap as long as they were undemanded by the wealthy; now they have caught up in cost with the rest of the edible animal parts. By

Brown and white bread have swapped social profiles in a way that would surely bewilder an anthropologist from another planet. White bread has enjoyed, for most of history, universal esteem because it seems to embody refinement: compared with its brown and black cousins, it is the product of a longer process, a more intense use of labor, a greater degree of waste and a demand for subtler flavor. It often involves superior-that is, costlier-grains. In the eleventh century, Gregory, Bishop of Langres, did penance by eating barley bread. According to a sermon of Humbert of Romans, a postulant at the altar when asked “What do you seek?” replied “White bread and often!” In France, until the last generation, to eat pain de seigle was to lose caste. In Britain, the superiority of white bread was an unquestioned assumption until industrial baking made it universally available. The upper classes then discovered the virtues of bread the workers would no longer eat. Coarse texture was redefined as “fiber” and to eat it became a sign of discrimination. Royal tables in India of two thousand years ago were furnished with the choicest rice-the most highly polished grains selected.

Oysters are commonly regarded as a food which has ascended the social scale in the modern West; but their history is more complex. The oyster was a sublime delicacy in antiquity and Middle Ages. Pliny rated it “the most delicate morsel of the sea.” It was boiled in spiced almond milk and wine in fifteenth-century England. In sixteenth-century Italy it was baked in pastry in elaborate savory custards. It was stuffed in soles in seventeenth-century France. It was proletarian food, on which Tiny Tim could dine with freedom, only during a brief era of abundance in the nineteenth century. While oysters have risen socially, chicken has fallen. It is hard now to recapture the longing evinced in a son’s reproach to his honest peasant father in a thirteenth-century tale by Werner der Gartenaere, “Father, I eat polenta but I want what they call roast chicken.” Today, it seems, we have to recontrive socially distinctive forms of chicken by privileging rare breeds, insisting on poulet de bresse, or inflating the prices of the products of free range or organic farming. Similarly, something like a socially differentiated range of pasta has been created by artificially adjusted pricing. Yet even pasta, which we think of as universally accessible nourishment, was once a luxury item. In 1600 in Rome, vermicelli cost three times as much as bread; even in 1700 the price of pasta was still double that of bread. Seventeenth-century Romans affectedly denigrated pasta as a foreign, Neapolitan invention: the real motive for eating bread instead may have been rational economy rather than patriotic preference. The descent of pasta to the rank of a universal food occurred in eighteenth-century Naples as the result of a technological innovation-the kneading machine and mechanical press.

There was a time when caviar was popular. Pierre Bellon reported it as a commonplace foodstuff in Constantinople soon after the Latin conquest. Throughout the Levant, it was said, “there is no one who does not eat it except Jews, who avoid it because the sturgeon has no scales.”The increasing cheapness and popularity of salmon today represents a regression to former habits: by local statute, apprentices in Gloucester in 1787 could not be forced”to dine off salmon oftener than twice a week.” Meanwhile, in France, the potato registered a slow but relentless social ascent from a stomach filler for the poor to a garnish of universal esteem. In 1749, “Les gens d’un certain ordre mettait au-dessous d’eux d’en voir paraitre sur leur table”; by 1789 “ce poison commence a se glisser jusque chez les personnes aiskes.” The same tuber followed a quite different trajectory in Cordoba, Argentina, where it began as an innovation favored by the rich, as garnish for meat or as an entree, stuffed or boiled; it then spread down through the ranks of society. In the early nineteenth century it cost as much as meat. By 1913 potatoes cost twelve cents a kilo, while beef was at fifty-five or sixty cents. Food always feeds class differences, but how, and with what dishes and ingredients, from time to time and place to place, seems impossible to predict.

Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, Felipe Fernández-Armesto