The Art & Science of Sound

Dinner vs. Supper: A Tale of Two Meals and An Audio Allegory

By Jack Sharkey for KEF

Here in the US, we pretty much use dinner and supper interchangeably, but there are some differences. To some people, you eat supper out and dinner at home with family. To others, supper is an informal meal grabbed quickly while dinner is a more formal event. Supper is a convenient afterthought; dinner takes planning, time and effort. Either way the end result is somewhat similar: You eat. The difference lies in the depth of the experience.

But, we’re busy. Life today moves faster than our brains can sometimes handle. Technology has made it possible for us to work at all hours of the day and night and we are constantly connected to everything and everybody with very little time to kick back and enjoy any of the good things life has to offer. Sometimes the simple act of eating a meal gets in the way of everything else we have to do. For long stretches of time all of our meals turn into supper. But sometimes just eating a fancy meal and being pampered a little bit is a necessary respite from the madness.

Last Friday we went out to eat hoping to grab a quick casual meal at a new restaurant in one of the hipper neighborhoods in Nashville. I was in the mood for a dive place with a good burger and a beer and we wound up at a place we’d all heard of but hadn’t tried. The place looked nice in that hip funky Nashville style that makes people fall in love with the city. My first clue this wasn’t a dive came when the waiter greeted us by saying ‘good evening’ instead of that ever popular faux-cheerful casual dining server greeting: ‘Hi guys! How are you guys tonight?!!”

It was obvious beer and burgers were out, so we ordered cocktails: The hipster-child-unit ordered a Mule (vodka, gin, rum, bourbon with ginger beer and lime). My long-suffering-life-partner (LSLP) ordered a glass of 2013 Altes Garnatxa red. The beer list was complicated and I’m not a hoppy kind of guy so I ordered an unsweetened iced tea. My dream of a burger and a beer was fading away.

Starving, we agreed an appetizer would be fun. I perused the menu for chicken fingers or jalapeno poppers, but alas, there were none, so we ordered the Goat Cheese Brulee (fresh goat cheese with flatbread, roasted tomatoes, local honey, roasted red peppers, balsamic). There were also no crayons or pictures on the placemats. In fact, there were no placemats.

For our entrees the LSLP ordered the pan-seared salmon with braised leek barrels, parsnips, pear and parsnip puree and charred parsley pistou. The hipster-child-unit ordered the Tennessee Hereford Cut with roasted baby carrots, celery root puree, crispy red potato and demi-glace. Holding onto my dream of a low-end dining experience, I ordered the Margherita pizza.

Everything was delicious, including the pedestrian Margherita pizza which was only pedestrian because it was not pan-seared salmon or Tennessee Hereford steak. They were eating dinner and I was eating supper. While I looked longingly at my beloved family members’ wonderful entrees, drinking my unsweetened tea and eating my pizza I came to the simple conclusion: Dinner kicks supper’s ass.

There is a difference between dinner and supper. I’m sure some of you die-hard supper fans will get upset that I am seemingly denigrating your favorite meal – I’m not, I’m simply pointing out the differences between the two. I eat supper on average 73.5% more times than I eat dinner, and I also typically forget what I had for supper the night before, but I can remember really good dinners from years ago.

In 1970 Americans spent $42.8 billion ($280 billion in today’s dollars) on dinner and almost fifty years later in 2019 we were projected to spend $863 billion, a 32% increase. In 1970, chefs were anonymous chain-smokers with drinking problems. In 2020, chefs are the new rock stars, with television shows, private planes, awesome tattoos, super expensive haircuts and well-fitting jeans. Might there be a connection between our increasing distance from food as an experience and our new-found idolization of people who spend their lives making food an experience?

Are we longing for the time when food mattered? I contend that since we spend so much time eating supper those who make dinner are our new heroes. With technology, entertainment is now fractured in our collective consciousness, but eating is the one thing we all have in common. It stands to reason then that the people we now elevate to celebrity are the masters who make our experiences with food matter. We are all masters of supper when what we want is to be masters of dinner.

The Theater of Bread is now our favorite entertainment; the winners of the multitude of cooking shows our new cultural icons. We exalt our chefs like we used to exalt our rock stars.

Of course, we love supper – fish sticks on rye bread with Kraft tartar sauce and slice of lettuce and American cheese, some potato chips and a glass of iced tea is my idea of a perfect supper. It’s quick, convenient and doesn’t require a lot from me. But sometimes, like last Friday night, I really wish I’d ordered the pan-seared salmon.

If every meal was dinner, we’d grow bored with the experience. If every meal is supper, we miss out on a lot of what a wonderful dining experience and great food has to offer.

The same thing can be said for music: You don’t love music any less because you treat it like supper, but you don’t enjoy it to its fullest extent either. Music is best experienced with a deeper connection to it beyond just anonymous background noise. Music that sounds great lifts the emotional experience beyond the ordinary, giving us a respite from our daily lives allowing us to experience being human at its fullest.

Make room in your life for both. Supper has its place, but dinner is what we strive for. Music is no different.

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