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Food and Eating An Anthropological Perspective Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective By Robin Fox The Myth of Nutrition We have to eat; we like to eat; eating makes us feel good; it is more...

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Food and Eating An Anthropological Perspective
Food and Eating: An Anthropological
By Robin Fox
The Myth of Nutrition
We have to eat; we like to eat; eating makes us feel good; it is more important
than sex. To ensure genetic survival the sex urge need only be satisfied a few
times in a lifetime; the hunger urge must be satisfied every day.
It is also a profoundly social urge. Food is almost always shared; people eat
together; mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village
comes together. Food is also an occasion for sharing, for distributing and
giving, for the expression of altruism, whether from parents to children,
children to in-laws, or anyone to visitors and strangers. Food is the most
important thing a mother gives a child; it is the substance of her own body,
and in most parts of the world mother’s milk is still the only safe food fo
infants. Thus food becomes not just a symbol of, but the reality of, love and
All animals eat, but we are the only animal that cooks. So cooking becomes
more than a necessity, it is the symbol of our humanity, what marks us off
from the rest of nature. And because eating is almost always a group event (as
opposed to sex), food becomes a focus of symbolic activity about sociality and
our place in our society.
The body needs fuel. But this need could be served by a rough diet of small
game, roots, and be
ies, as it was for several million years. Or, even more
extreme, pills could be synthesized to give us all we need (except bulk). But
our “tastes” have never been governed solely by nutrition. Modern
nutritionists chanted the litany of the “four food types” (vegetables, grains,
dairy products, meats) from which we were supposed to take more or less
equal amounts daily. But dairy and domestic meat fats are now considered
harmful, and a new “food pyramid” – equally misleading – is being touted.
In fact, nutrition plays only a small part in our food choices. Adele Davis,
whose bossy opinions on food were to a whole generation as authoritative as
Dr. Spock’s on childrearing (she recommended a diet of liver and yogurt),
held that European history was determined by food habits. The French ate
ead and drank wine and strong coffee, she said, and this was about as
nutritionally disastrous as possible; the Germans, on the other hand, ate dark
ead and drank beer – both nutritionally sound. Was it any wonder, she
asked, that the Germans kept beating the French? But even if both nations
were to accept this interesting hypothesis as sound, do we believe they would
change their food preferences?|
Social Issues Research Centre 1
Nor are these preferences solely governed by what is available. All cultures go
to considerable lengths to obtain prefe
ed foods, and often ignore valuable
food sources close at hand. The English do not eat horse and dog;
Mohammedans refuse pork; Jews have a whole litany of fo
idden foods (see
Leviticus); Americans despise offal; Hindus taboo beef – and so on. People
will not just eat anything, whatever the circumstances. In fact, omnivorousness
is often treated as a joke. The Chinese are indeed thought by their more
fastidious neighbors to eat anything. The Vietnamese used to say that the best
way to get rid of the Americans would be to invite in the Chinese, who would
surely find them good to eat.
You Eat What You Are
Since everyone must eat, what we eat becomes a most powerful symbol of
who we are. To set yourself apart from others by what you will and will not
eat is a social ba
ier almost as powerful as the incest taboo, which tells us
with whom we may or may not have sex. Some cultures equate the two
taboos. Margaret Mead quotes a New Guinea prove
that goes, “Your own
mother, your own sister, your own pigs, your own yams which you have piled
up, you may not eat.” Own food, like related women, is for exchange, for gift
giving, for social generosity, for forging alliances, but not for personal
consumption. The obverse of this is that you identify yourself with others by
eating the same things in the same way. To achieve such identification, people
will struggle to eat things they loath, and avoid perfectly tasty food that is on
the fo
idden list. In the process of social climbing people have to learn to like
caviar, artichokes, snails, and asparagus, and scorn dumplings, fish and chips,
and meat and potato pie – all more nutritious, but fatally tainted with
lower-class associations.
There are as many kinds of food identification as there are the same in fashion,
speech, music, manners and the like. The obvious ones are ethnic, religious
and class identifications. Ethnic food preferences only become identity
markers in the presence of gustatory “foreigners,” such as when one goes
oad, or when the foreigners visit the home shores. The insecure will cling
desperately to home food habits: English housewives on the continent even
eak open tea bags to make a “proper” cup of tea (the taste is identical).
Popular songs attest to the food difficulties of interethnic ma
iages’ “bangers
and mash vs. macaroni.” When various ethnic groups are forcibly thrown
together, there is both an intensifying of food identity and a growing
mishmash. The American melting pot is almost literally that: the food
preferences of dozens of nations are put side by side, and there cannot help but
e overlap and mixing. The most startling example is the popularity of the
Chinese kosher restaurant, and it is not uncommon to find a restaurant
advertising itself as “Chinese-Italian-American” along with the proud boast
“All Our Wines Are Chilled.” The ubiquitous “diner” with its vast menu
served twenty-four hours a day is a microcosm of the melting pot, having
Greek salad, Italian pasta, German rye
ead, Polish kielbasi, Chinese chow
mein, Belgian waffles, French quiche, Hungarian goulash, Irish stew, Jewish
gefilte fish, Russian blintzes, English muffins, Austrian pastries, Swiss cheese,
Social Issues Research Centre 2
Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective You Eat What You Are
Mexican enchiladas, Spanish gazpacho, Canadian bacon, Japanese teriyaki,
German sausages, Norwegian he
ing, Lebanese pita, Nova Scotia salmon and
Virginia ham.
Tables and Table Manners
Not knowing how to eat “properly” is universally a sign of outsider status.
Proper eating includes the kind of food used, the way of preparing it, the
manner of serving it, and the way of eating it. The intricacies of the tea
ceremony are known only to experienced Japanese; social climbers in the
West can be spotted immediately by their inability to master the details of
place settings; “using the wrong fork” is an offense as grave as spitting in
public. Since anyone wishing to integrate himself into a group must eat with it,
there is no surer way of marking off those who are in and those out than by
food etiquette. Dipping with hands into a communal dish is de rigeur in some
cultures, abho
ent in others. Shovelling food into the mouth with a fork
would be seen as the height of indelicacy by some; the absence of forks as the
height of ba
arity by others. Fingers may have been made before forks, but
ever since Catherine (and Marie) de Medici
ought these essential tools fo
noodle eating from northern Italy to France, the perfectly useful finger has
een socially out, except for fruit and cheese. It took the elaborate dining
habits of the upper classes to refine the use of multiple forks (as well as
knives, spoons, and glasses).
The timing of eating shows up class differences. In the past, as in the novels of
Jane Austen, for example, the upper classes
eakfasted late (about 10
o’clock), as befitted their leisure status. (This distinguished them from the
lower orders, who eat very early before going off to work.) They had perhaps
an informal lunch of cold meats, but the next main meal was dinner, which
was eaten anywhere between five and seven, depending on the pretensions of
the family. A light supper might be served before bedtime. The lower orders,
meanwhile, would be eating a light midday meal and then a hearty “tea” afte
the day’s work was done, with again a supper before bed.
The importance of “lunch” as a main meal came later from the business
community, and “dinner” was pushed back into the evening, with supper more
or less abolished. The lower orders continued to make midday “dinner” and
“high tea” major meals, and since dinner was pushed later for the middle
classes, “tea” became an institution around four o’clock. There is no
nutritional sense to the timing of eating. It could be done differently. The late
eakfast was primarily a sign of status and nothing else; Jane Austen’s
characters always had to kill time in some way before
eakfasting, and these
were good hours in which to advance the plot. In France, the enormous
midday meal, with its postprandial siesta, is what the day revolves around. The
entire country comes to a stop and wakes up again between three and four.
The order in which foods are eaten, which really does not matter, becomes
highly ritualistic: Soup, fish, poultry, meat, dessert (which echoes the process
of evolution) becomes a standard. Sweet should not be eaten before savory,
Social Issues Research Centre 3
Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective Tables and Table Manners
and rarely (in France never) with. The French eat salad after the main dish, the
Americans rigidly before; the English, to the disgust of both, put it on the
same plate as the (cold) meat. In the East, it is more common to serve all the
food together, often in communal dishes, and allow a wide sampling of
different items. In the more individualistic West, place settings are rigidly set
of from each other, and so are “courses.” The serving of wine with food
ecomes even more rigidly a matter of protocol, and operates to mark off
differences of status within classes: those who “know” wine and those who do
not. Classes in “corporate health” in the United States now include sessions on
“How to Read a Wine Label.” The rationale is that without such knowledge
corporate executives may be subject to “stress,” which would impair thei
Foreign foods tend to be shunned by the working classes, but among the
upper-middle and upper they become items of prestige. A knowledge of
foreign food indicates the eater’s u
anity and cosmopolitanism. Until
ecently, being conversant with foreign food was a privilege of those who
could afford to travel, but now
Answered Same Day Apr 04, 2020


Anju Lata answered on Apr 05 2020
130 Votes
Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective
Food is our essential need, a social desire and a symbol of love and imparts security in relationships. Cooking the food is a basic human nature and is largely based on our choice of taste rather than nutritional priorities. The preference of foods and eating serving etiquettes vary considerably among different cultures of society. Appropriate eating involves the type of food, the ways of preparation, serving and eating essentials (Fox, p.1).
Conspicuous eating at ceremonies has been an endeavor of status to impress the guests with our prosperity and includes the nicest food reserved for grand occasions. In addition to it, where we eat is equally important. In high societies, the dining room has become a ceremonial room which is being used for...

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