Have your cake, but eat it?


Remember the expression, ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’?

A medieval take on an age old truth. Start the day eating well, have a reasonable boost to keep you going but don’t over do it in the evening when it is harder to digest and burn the meal. A corrective for a common instinct to avoid food first thing as we ease into the day, quickly eat lunch and go to town at the end of the day.

Breakfast like a king in a stately manner, getting all the energy you need for the day. Have a more modest but respectable lunch, a less private and indulgent matter kings are kings whereas princes are princes amongst princes. Then to dinner, like a pauper, eating only lightly with others pooling what you have. A hierarchical view of the world that reinforces a hierarchy of digestion.

There’s a Russian version of this expression I came across a few years ago that I feel is far more evocative. It runs, ‘Steal your breakfast, share your lunch, give away your dinner.’

No Kings, Princes or Paupers (each in HIS place) here. Instead a world of adventure, assignations and revolution. Stealing your breakfast evokes the classic ethical debate of stealing a loaf of bread for your starving family. It speaks of desperation and an urge for life. A king gorges on breakfast because it’s in the role profile. A rebel attacks breakfast because it could be his last in the ancien régime or simply his last…

Our breakfast is not a stately proceeding but a time to fire up and fuel up for the day ahead. As we consume we are consumed by our worries and hopes and plans for the day ahead. We should eat heartily and well. May our breakfasts be times to charge and to focus, to think of how we can be effective contributors and imagineers in society.

Lunch we share, because at lunch we find co-conspirators of our breakfast plans, whether they be at the back of our mind, in the pages in front of us, drifting out of the radio or sitting across from us. We are not princes who have fashionable lunches within our rarefied clique. Lunch is a time spent with others either literally or figuratively where we can begin to see how the imagination we have started the day with can be applied in society.

By dinner it is time to man the barricades – give away your dinner to the one who has need. A ‘pauper’ was a term presumably that was applied to a pauper rather than by a pauper to describe themselves.

‘What do you do then?’

‘I sell used carts. How about you?’

‘Oh me, I’m a pauper, I paup.’

‘I see. How long you been in the pauping game then?’

‘Oh many, many years, once you paup…’

No it’s likely paupers didn’t see themselves as paupers, it is a phrase that reinforces a hierarchy – from the top end. The Russians however cast our dashing diners as generous adventurers, who having started the day with daring and rendezvoused with collaborators, are now giving to those who have greater need.

May our dinners be given away both literally and figuratively. Our house is not our castle and may, by dinner time each day, we be applying our hopes and our conversations to the society in and around us. Let’s at dinner spare a thought and an action for hunger in our society, in our world, in our humanity.

Both expressions reinforce biological facts.

One reinforces an established hierarchy.

The other turns it on its head.


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