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Supper vs. Dinner reveals regional mealtime name divide
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Supper vs. Dinner reveals regional mealtime name divide

On the heels of December’s scoop vs. shovel discussion, Daughter No. Two discovered yet another regional divide when it comes to discussing mealtime names in Washington, D.C. For the past two years she has been the intern trainer at a senator’s office. Earlier this month she called home for a D.C. update and noted, “The interns just asked me what ‘supper’ was.”

To most Midwesterners, there is nothing unusual about calling the last meal of the day supper.

But to her mostly East Coast and urban interns, supper was a foreign word. “I was trying to convey the self-fulfillment I carried to work this morning for having accomplished so much last night. I had made supper, finished my homework (she’s studying online for a master’s in ag economics) AND went grocery shopping. I received blank looks and slowly blinking eyes.

“I explained that since it was warm and I was in a hurry, I had made a simple sandwich to eat with some carrots around 6:30 p.m. Thus, I had made ‘supper.’ More slow blinks followed.”

To find some background on the issue, she turned to Facebook, noting, “I fear this is turning into another scoop vs. shovel debate. Anyone have further anecdotes, comments or observations to back me up? I know I’m not crazy.”

Over the next two days more than 60 people would weigh in on whether their evening meal was called supper or dinner and why. One of our long-time neighbors noted, “This partly comes from rural families (farmers) having their big meal at noon – dinner, because they needed fuel for the rest of the work day. Then there was a light meal in the evening – supper.”

Another friend pointed to the rural and urban culture differences. “More urban people say lunch (noon) and dinner (at night). Just tell them that supper is dinner.”

The most popular listing for daily meals was breakfast, dinner and supper, followed closely by breakfast, lunch and supper, with dinner reserved for special occasions such as Sunday dinner or dinner out or holiday meals.

Regionally it appeared that supper was used most in the Midwest and the South. Another of my friends provided this bit of background, “Dinner is considered to be the ‘main’ or largest meal of the day, whether it takes place at noon or in the evening. Supper is more specifically a lighter evening meal.

Rooted in the word ‘to sup,’ it comes from farming traditions. Many farming families would have a pot of soup cooking throughout the day and would eat it in the evening – specifically, they would ‘sup’ the soup.”

Since this debate took place during Lent, one of my high school teachers had this thought, “Has anyone ever heard of the ‘Last Dinner?’”

Or this from a broadcasting friend, “Just lord it over them that your vocabulary provides more descriptive opportunities than theirs.”

An exchange student friend pointed out, “There are soup suppers, pancake suppers and so forth as community gatherings or fundraisers.”

Cicely noted that was an excellent point, only to report back minutes later, “They have no idea what a pancake feed or a soup supper is … poor things.”

A Nebraska Press Women friend was quick to ask, “Who are these people?”

“Potlucks, have they heard of potlucks?” asked another person.

“Yes, they have heard about potlucks, although few have participated in them,” replied my daughter.

“Fish fries during Lent?” Well, there was a bit of salvation there, they had heard of and been to fish fries.

Finally a Farm Bureau friend asked, “Tell them about cakewalks that happen at church dinners (lunch) and you get to take an entire cake home if your number is picked.”

Well, reporting back Cicely noted, “One-third of them knew what an actual cake walk was, rather than just the metaphor.”

All the talk about meals got to one suddenly hungry cousin, who concluded the exchange by saying, “Call it whatever you want. Just make sure you call me so I’m not late for dinner? Supper?”

Freelance journalist Barb Bierman Batie grew up near Battle Creek, Neb., and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She has written for local, state, regional and international publications and joined the Midwest Messenger crew in 2010. She can be reached at barb.batie@midwestmessenger.com.

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Barb is a freelance journalist who grew up near Battle Creek, Nebraska, and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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