The study of food is an important area of contemporary and anthropological concern. It is an essential component in our daily lives. Besides providing the basic energy and sustenance necessary for life, it is a way of forging a personal connection with families and friends. While food may not seem to be an obvious marker of identity, it plays a crucial role in demarcating cultural identity. Most importantly, it is a reflection of who we are.
Understanding the choice of diet is a complex endeavor discussed in various disciplines such as nutrition, economics, psychology, physiology and sociology. Food related behavior is influenced by a several variables. The three major determinants outlined by various models are the physical properties, psychological and social factors (Rozin, 2006). This paper explores on its cultural impact among individuals in different societies. Emphasis has been made on its role in social structure. Further, key factors determining the choice of food have been highlighted. The research question being answered here is “Does what we eat define who we are and where we come from?”
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2. Literature review
Much of existing literature has been broad based focusing on issues of health, quality and food safety. Studies on the factors affecting the choice of food are still few. In a study on the culinary habits in Hong Kong, David, Siumi & Sidney (2002) were fascinated with the findings of their research. In their title “A study of food culture, changing tastes and identity in popular discourse”, they analyzed food and cultural identity in the context of demographic and family structure in Hong Kong. Their analysis revealed a process of culinary invention which reflected the larger social and cultural trends.
Madison & McFarlin (2009) studies revealed that the history of Britain had played a crucial role determining their cultural foods. The Romans brought cherries, peas, cabbages and stinging nettles. The Danes and the Vikings developed techniques for smoking and drying fish (Madison & McFarlin, 2009). During the 12th century, the Normans did not only invade the country, but also changed their feeding habits. They encouraged consumption of beef, mutton and drinking of wine. This greatly influenced the diet of the British.
These studies have immensely contributed in the coverage of the factors determining the choice diet. Consumer perceptions and attitudes towards their diets say a lot about them.
Food is certainly one of the most favorite obsessions in human beings. We spend most of our time physically and mentally preoccupied with it. Human beings must procure, select, prepare and consume food so as to sustain their daily growth. However, the manner in which they do so reflect a complex interrelationship and interaction between individuals, culture and the society. (Anderson, 2005). Eating has implications on how we relate to the larger culture and what we think of ourselves. It is experienced differently through cultural traditions and forms an important part of our daily lifestyle. It presents a lot about our culture and defines where we come. Human beings are believed to differ from cultural habits in most regions in the world.
The importance of food in understanding the cultural background lies precisely in its infinite variability. These variables include ingredients used, ways of preservation, preference, customs and beliefs (Conner & Armitage, 2002). While anthropological study may arrange these variables systematically and provide a convincing explanation as to why the go together, the research posed here uses culture in relating these variables.
4. Research analysis
Studies have confirmed that particular foods can inspire vivid memories (Carole & Esterik, 1999). For example, people tend to develop great affection for foods taken during their childhood. This is because it reminds them of a particular time when life was less complicated. These memories are important because they provide us with a reflection of who we are.
Sometimes, it reminds us of the past struggles against traditions. For instance, immigrant children are fond of shunning their traditional dietary food, and instead embrace the mainstream eating patterns even if the food is not that good. It should be noted that while human beings grow, they begin to craft their own identities separate from that prescribed by the traditions. People change their eating habits as a symbol of differentiating themselves from the roots embedded in their culture.
Consequently, what we eat reflects our broader values. How we procure, select, prepare and consume food provides a reflection on what we value. Is economy and self discipline an important value to usDoes it provide us an opportunity to demonstrate our skillOr is it deliberately simply a rebellion of our values. A simple illustration is with the American government where the current fascination with obscure regional food traditions is a reflection of authenticity and simplicity in the lives of the Americans (Mason & Singer, 2006).
Different countries and nations associate themselves with certain diets. For example, Italians mainly prefer eating pizza and pasta as their main cultural diet. Chinese foods are often associated with flavorings such as ginger root, soy sauce and rice. Similarly, wine, lime, tomato and chili pepper are attributed to the Mexican cuisine (Logue, 2004).
In Britain, Curry is the most popular food. Britain’s obsession with Indian Curry can be traced back to a time when India was still under British Empire. The fusion between the British and Indian culture is inescapably intertwined. Some of diet that falls in the category of Indian food was developed by British expatriates in India. Other dishes have however resulted from Indian immigration to the UK. Most dishes are now referred to as Indian yet they are a result of the fusion between the British and American Cuisines. This shows complex interrelationship portrayed by the two cultures and hence an important reflection of their cultural historical background.
British children eat according to the directives of their guardians or parents. Some parents may at times take their children to fast food restaurants like McDonalds. However, most of the junky stuff obtained from these restaurants often leads to obesity. A situation characterized by increased mass content which affects both the adults and children.
5. Impact of culture on the choice of food
Culture refers to the style of behavior or pattern that a group of people share. Generally, people within the same culture share the same assemblage of food variables while those of different cultures have different assemblage of these variables. As such we find same eating patterns and habits dominating within the same culture while people from different cultures exhibit entirely different eating habits..
It is important to note that these habits are not necessarily homogeneous within the same culture. People of different occupations or classes eat differently. Moreover, different religious sects have different eating codes. The type of occasion may at times determine what we eat. For example, the meal for a daily routine is totally different from that taken when mourning.
It is a known fact that people differ in taste and preference. People in various stages of their lives eat differently. These differences are rooted in evolutionary and genetic heritage. While some of the differences are those of preference, others are downright prescribed. Identifying these differences and relating them to facets of social life is important in understanding the cultural impact of food among individuals in different societies (Gabaccia, 2000).
Cultural influences often lead to difference in habitual consumption of foods. However, these influences are amenable to change. For example, immigrants may at times adopt a different diet and eating pattern different from that of the local culture. Dietary change is however not an easy task as it requires alteration in habits built over a lifetime
Over hundreds of years, diets have been shaped by the local culture. Foods have immensely contributed in defining the culture and identity of many nations. The Italian, Mexican, Chinese and French foods have evolved independently with unique characteristics. The Southern diet in America has heavily been influenced by French traditions
For a long time, food has played a prominent role in the society. It permeates many facets of our daily life. More so, the choice of diet is largely shaped by the socio cultural context and our own cognitive appraisal. This portrays much about our culture and style within the societal context.
Generally, our eating habits and preference are often determined by the culture. The cultural environment dictates the type of diet and how they can be eaten. For example, insects and caterpillars are often shunned by most cultures; however, these components form an integral food source in Asian and Latin American countries.
6. Current situation and how these reflect on our identity
Today, people eat food with origins in culture different from their own. For instance, In the United States, most of the dishes originated elsewhere yet these dishes have been modified to suit the popularity and taste of the mainstream. In the recent past, there has been increased incorporation of ethnic Cuisines into the diet of Americans. This is a reflection of the adaptability and flexibility of the Americans. Foods from Middle East, Asia and Latin American have also been incorporated into the American diet (Warde et al, 2000).
Americans flexibility and adaptability portrayed by the successive generations experimenting with their neighbors’ customary diet illuminate the market place as one of the most important arena for defining our relations and expressing our identities. Americanized foods such as the spaghetti coexist happily with ethnic dishes and creative hybrids. Americans’ multi-ethnic eating is a constant reminder of how ethnic interaction is widespread and mutually enjoyable in the United States. Amid the existing wrangles over tribal differences and immigration, this reveals that the Americans on a basic level are multicultural.
7. Social context
Social influences on the type of diet and our eating pattern is not a new phenomenon. The choice of food is influenced by social factors because our eating habits and attitude develop through interaction with others. Quantifying the impact on food intake is however difficult. Social influence on customary diet manifests itself through friendship and families.
Dietary traditions vary widely around the globe. Even people from the same cultural background may at time portray different eating patterns. However, it can be associated with hospitality and friendship. While the customary diets vary, being able to share portray a sense of hospitality and friendship. Sharing of customary diets has not only transformed the cuisines of the Americans and Europeans, but also the Asian and African countries. Sharing ethnic diets is a way of sharing culture and this portrays our hospitality and friendship towards other cultures.
Research studies from social sciences and psychology have emphasized on a strong relationship on the choice of food, culture and lifestyle. Evaluation of ourselves is easily made basing on the choice of food and brand selection.
In summary, there are intrinsically no right ways of eating. While it may seem bizarre to others to eat certain types of food, these form part of the integral diet of other cultures. Clearly, the choice of food is largely determined by our culture. How we eat and what we eat reveals a lot about our history and defines who we are.
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Gabaccia.D (2000), We are what we eat: Ethnic food and the making of Americans, Harvard university press
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Warde, Alan, Martens, & Lydia (2000), Eating Out. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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