Food in an anthropological view

Food is not something "natural" at all, but what arrives on the plate is the result of a cultural change.

The various cultures are different also for food and gastronomy, two very important elements to customize a population and present relations, since relations change when share food. An example can be represented by the courting ritual, where you invite a person to have a candlelight dinner: it is more challenging of a coffe and so it is more difficult to recede.

The use of we make of food and drinks does not only depend on conventional rules, everyone gives a different meaning to a particular food in a certain context.

For example, solid food, in regard with liquids, stronger and more challenging relations come in. Or the construction of relations can turn around to the gesture of giving when you offer a certain food. That is how food becomes expression, that is one of the main languages with which we talk about ourselves. Think about for example to the expression "eating with your eyes": the sexual language often refers to food. Or the famous phrase "we are what we eat", it indicates the fact that what we eat distinguished us from others.

During times attitudes change, evolve, and the modern society is more unruly than the past. Before the table was the place where family used to come together and eat the first and second dish. Today everyone eats individually, so food relations are less ritualized. More liquid come in and so social relations are freer (less weddings, two people break repeatedly).

Before food was producted at home and all the family was busy in its production. Now food is producted by the others. Eating is become a hobby, in which you cook for pleasure and not for necessity. As regards the taste, conditionings start in the intrauterine life. It is linked to a biological component: sweets are loved because they bring energy, while the bitter is often forbidden because it is associated to something dangerous. But cultures reshape these innate mechanisms and make them its own, as if they would identify themselves through food (for example in Nigeria they serve bitter sauces to the unwelcome guest, to make him understand). 

The relation we have with food is not of a ideological type, but of behavioral, of attraction or repulsion. In any culture human beings eat everything is eatable and anthopologists try to understand why a food becomes so. In our society nothing is born as food, but it becomes so for choice or culture.

By Maria Parisi

Translated by Giorgia Melis

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Sections Health & Wellness 2030 Agenda Health and Wellness


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Food in an anthropological view

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