Monday, November 7, 2011

The anthropological foodie

I may have graduated from college two - okay fine, almost three - years ago, however, as the saying goes, "You can take the girl out of the Anthropology seminar but you can't take the discourses on Foucault, human tendencies of classification and attempting to control the body out of the girl." What, that's not a saying? I'm pretty sure it is.

At any rate, I am always observing our world through the frame of my own knowledge and perspective, as we all do, and in my case this knowledge and perspective has its roots in anthropological theories and practices.

Therefore, when I hear or read of women {and yes, occasionally men} discussing their food choices, dietary preferences and past food struggles, I cannot help but make a small ethnographic study of these opinions and experiences.

My brief interaction with biological anthropology taught me that anthropologists can ascertain an alarming amount of detail about a past culture by observing its population's eating habits: the tools they used for hunting or farming, food preparation and eating, the role of food in religious customs, the specific types of foods native to their land and the role that food played on determining their culture. YES, food, it appears, can play a role in determining culture. Archaic peoples with a plethora of spices and exotic fruits available to them have a different cultural history than those who lived in sparser, colder, less fertile lands.

british food for royal wedding party...this is why they had to conquer so many countries

Consider our current climate. In the United States and in most of western civilization, we have an obsession with food. We love it. We can't stop thinking about it. We've built up entire industries around food - agriculture, factories for processed food production and packaging, shipping of food across countries and the world, distributors, restaurants, grocery stores, farmer's markets, charitable food drives and soup kitchens, food festivals...and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

For women {and again, I recognize that many men also fit in this camp}, food is something we love, yes, but it is so much more. Food is associated with: reward, guilt, celebration, good health, poor health, generosity, self-deprivation, gluttony, joy, fear, doubt, pleasure, pain...again, just the tip of the iceberg.

so many adjectives describe what's happening here...most of them gross

Food has become so much more than just food. Food, in its simplest form, is sustenance. Nourishment. Necessary for life just as water and oxygen. How often do you think to yourself, "have I breathed enough today? Too much? How much should I breathe tomorrow? What about on Thanksgiving?" That would most likely be never, unless you have some form of rare breathing disorder I have never heard of, and if that's the case, I'm sorry because that must be rough.

My point is not to dole out advice, such as, "eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full and don't worry about it," or "just use common sense about your diet," although those are two of the greatest pieces of diet advice on Earth. My point is to give you some food for thought (heh, sorry, couldn't help myself) ~ we take so much of our daily existence and thoughts and culture for granted. Try to take a moment to think, "why do I think about food so much?" and "why do I have absolutely no problem with the fact that I basically have to publicly disrobe to fly to my parents' house for Christmas?" Okay fine, totally unrelated, but totally intrinsic parts of our daily cultural experience that we accept without question.

well, why not?!?

Our cultural conceptions have not existed since the dawn of time, as we may believe, and I find it fascinating to take the time to unpack our tightly held beliefs and practices and consider how and why we've come to where we are. I find that doing so helps me find balance in my life, helps me approach situations with a greater degree of reason, and helps me bore people when I won't stop rambling about it.

Any boring, daily occurrences you think too much about?
How do you think about our eating habits?

If you haven't had enough of re-considering our so-called inherent cultural beliefs, check this interesting post on gender from Colleen, a psychology grad student who also probably thinks about humans too much.

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