Great Books
Comment 1

Food and Eating: An Anthropological perspective. You Eat What You Are

By Robin Fox
I have to say that technically this is not a book, it is an article/working paper published by the Social Issues Research Centre a British independent, non-profit organisation, founded to conduct research on social and lifestyle issues, providing new insights on human behaviour and social relations.

You can access the PDF file here.

Unfortunately in academia many research works don’t necessarily have the most catchy titles and I have to say this is one of those cases.

I personally find the document deeply interesting and witty, so I’ll try to illustrate why I liked it, hoping you feel drawn to read it for yourselves.
The author begins by making some reflections about the uses we give to food as an excuse for sharing, to express our altruism and to bond between strangers, friends and family.

Food, Robin says, “is the most important thing a mother gives a child; it is the substance of her own body… Thus food becomes not just a symbol of, but the reality of love and security”.

Food seen through a cultural lens reveals the ways in which we relate to food: “There are as many kinds of food identifications as [those] in fashion, speech, music, manners… food preferences only become identity markers” food is more than substance, food is a cultural multidimensional product.

Here’s an interesting analysis: In cosmopolitan urban centres the preference for ethnic food often indicates the eater’s sophistication and status. In the other hand the new abundance of foreign foods offer the opportunity to have a gastronomic experience that was only available to people who could afford to travel, in a way immigration has democratized exotic sensory experiences. Moreover, the abundance of food programs on television, radio, podcasts etc, has allowed people to learn about culinary traditions and cuisines from all over the world without even leaving their houses.

The author then meditates about the use of to food as a bonding tool: “to feed someone is one of the most direct and intimate ways to convey something of ourselves to others” through the act of feeding we manifest our hospitality, knowledge and skills”, through its preparation and/or consumption we display our world views, aspirations and desires, whichever this are.

Another fascinating idea is the very thin line between food as seduction (and a hyper sensory experience) that reveals our most raw desires to posses and devour that which gives us joy and pleasure; and then, there’s the sublime aspect of food as the materialization of divinity, food rituals become a complex act of primeval worship.

Finally, the Fox makes some considerations on the future of food, after all we’ll never stop eating, our bodies will keep on needing nutrients, but food will always be surrounded in many layers of cultural meanings that will continue to shape each and every one of our meals.


1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this post, very interesting. As a “lactivist,” I’ve tried to put breastfeeding and breast milk as a food in the contest of food “sovereignty”, here in this Christmas piece and in this one, about milk banks:

    I hope it’s ok to share these here. Cheers!


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