Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Roast Beef of Old England

Food is part of culture and will be connected to its surroundings. While some things have a constant meaning in all cultures (drinking blood and disregard of life, Gen. 9:3-6), other things receive meaning by local culture and common usage. A good representative of this would be the food offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. The food there wasn't inherently sinful, even the idols were nothing, but because some "eat food as really offered to an idol" (1 Cor. 8:7) it has a meaning that Christians ought to beware of.

I think of this symbolic nature of food when I come across songs like the following, this time in a good way. This song, The Roast Beef of Old England, uses food, namely roast beef, ragout, coffee, and tea, to symbolize the changes in England in the early 1700s. The song became popular and was used in the British army, and later the American army, to call the men for the midday meal (dinner) by being played on fife and drum. It is also said that it was also used by bugler P.W. Fletcher, to call first class passengers to meals on the RMS Titanic. Here are the lyrics:

The Roast Beef of Old England
By Richard Leveridge

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
   Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learned from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance
   Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong,
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long,
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song
   Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

But now we are dwindled to, what shall I name?
A sneaking poor race, half-begotten and tame,
Who sully the honours that once shone in fame.
   Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne,
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known,
The world was in terror if e'er she did frown.
   Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!

In those days, if Fleets did presume on the Main,
They seldom, or never, return'd back again,
As witness, the Vaunting Armada of Spain.
   Oh! The Roast Beef of Old England,
   And old English Roast Beef!


  1. Hello,
    What a blessing it is to find other like minded bloggers! We have a website on the same topic as you, what a providence.
    Actually, we've decided to post a giveaway on our site for you new book; The Christian Philosophy of Food....hope you don't mind!

    Have you heard about the up and coming Reformation of Food and Family Conference ( that Vision Forum Ministries is holding this year? It will be addressing many of the topics you present in your book. Thought might be interested if you did not yet know about it!

    Hannah and Esther from "The Theology of Food"

  2. Hello Hannah and Esther,

    Yes, I had actually already found your blog (through my friend Ben Serven) and read it occasionally. And no, I don't mind a giveaway. Thank you!

    Yes, I have heard of the conference (for over a year). In fact, I talked to the Phillips over the weekend at the Family Economics Conference ( It sounds like it will be a great conference.

    -Peter Bringe
    D. V.