Parties, Food, and Anti-Food
I just threw a dinner party last weekend, and in the post-mortem with my girlfriend, happened upon an interesting concept. The 'dinner party' as formally constructed probably originated around 1900; when the bourgeousie acquired dining tables and formal dining rooms and all the tat necessary to impress the neighbors. The key point of differentiation here is that a 'dinner party' is not for a special occasion like a wedding, funeral, holiday, etc; includes more than just family; and is thrown by people not of the nobility or aristocracy.
Food was then expensive, and manners were formal, so throwing a mini-feast for no particular reason was an impressive thing to do.
Today, dinner parties are all-but-dead; the closest analogue being a BBQ in the back yard during summer. I would suppose that this has a lot to do with cooking skills being on the decline, but I think that in fact the key difference is that food is now cheap, so having a party centered around a meal (when half the people there are likely on a diet) makes very little sense. In fact, most parties I attend these days center around activities -- volleyball in the park and a burrito afterwards; a hike or run in the hills and burgers afterwards; etc. It's as if anti-food has replaced food as the centerpiece of our socializing.
This needs a bit more thought, but it's a dichotomy worth recording in its present inchoate form.