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December 5, 2013 By 81 Comments

Happy Thursday folks. After taking a week break from the He thinks/She thinks segments due to
Thanksgiving festivities, we are back at it again this week. Todays topic is the stereotype of certain
foods being associated with gender and how we may or may not subconsciously fuel this stigma.

This is a topic I was going to dedicate a post for, however after reading Kelly post her thoughts
several weeks ago, I thought it would be a great topic to show the varying perspectives on it!


Hey everyone! My names Kelly and Im the blogger over at Kelly Runs For Food. When Arman asked
me to share my perspective on the relationship between food and gender stereotypes, I was happy to
weigh in. I cant wait to hear Armans perspective too!

Typical food conversation:

Co-worker: Kelly, would you like a burger?

Me: Oh, no thank you. Im trying to be healthy this week.

Co-worker: But theyre sliders. Theyre mini.

Me: Mini?! Oh, theyre so cuuute! (eats 4 of them)

Picture Source

Im not sure who invented the slider, but I do know WHO they were invented for: women. Because
women like miniature things. In fact, theres a long list of foods that are basically reserved just for
women. Marketing companies have figured out how to sell certain foods to women and Ill admit: I fall
for all of it. If you make lady food, I guarantee you could sell it to me. I love yogurt, smoothies, and
anything topped with arugula; however, I also love pizza, bread, and steak. You just dont see women
eating those things in commercials the way you see them eat salad.

I wrote a post on food and gender a couple weeks ago and was surprised by some of the comments I
got from women who said their husbands eat healthier than they do. It surprised me because thats
definitely not my reality! In my house, if I suggest making a dinner of spaghetti squash tossed with
veggies, I get looked at like Im a crazy person. Dinner includes meat. Always. My husband is a true
guys guy when it comes to food and its made me realize that the stereotypes I see in the media are
pretty darn accurate in real life.

If you start to think about it, youll end up mentally going through your own kitchen, assigning a
gender to everything you see. Salad? Women. Steak? Men. Moscato? Women. Bourbon? Men.
Luckily, a whole bunch of things are gender neutral (Pasta seemed pretty androgynous to me), but
there are still a lot of gender stereotypes when it comes to food. I mean, have you ever seen a man
look THIS excited to eat yogurt?

Picture Source

The problem isnt the media or the food companies. Theyre just trying to sell some yogurt and they
know who their audience is. The real problem is that we listen. Maybe Arman has a different
perspective being a guy, but from where Im sitting it looks like all the media outlets are telling women,
Hey women! Youre on a diet (obviously), so eat these foods! And we do.

Ill never know if the media is copying society or if its the other way around. What I do know is that Ill
never catch my husband eating yogurt, saying, OMG this tastes JUST like apple pie! Whether we
like it or not, men and women have become accustomed to seeing a relationship between certain
foods and gender. My hope is that eventually we can all look past the stereotypes and focus on the
foods that we want to eat, not just what we think we should be eating because were women.



Restaurant Scenario 1- Out for dinner with a female friend

Waiter- Here is the chicken and cous cous salad for you Miss and here is the Barbeque chicken pizza
for you, Sir.

Me- Actually, the chicken and cous cous salad is for me.

Restaurant Scenario 2- Out for dinner with a female friend

Me- Ill order the roasted pumpkin pizza please.

Waiter- Ill take it you want the optional strip steak topping?

Picture Source

These kind of scenarios are common place and frankly, its something weve all subconsciously
become immune to. Extensive research has even been undertaken to highlight how cravings for
certain foods based on gender show a clear distinction. (Source)

However, should we feel self conscious for wanting something which many would consider to be a
female oriented food choice being male or vica versa?

The number of times Ive dined out with female friends or my sister and had the awkward moment of
explaining to waiters or servers that No, the vegetable lasagna is actually for ME or Yes I
wouldnt mind looking at the dessert menu. Lets not mention the time I bought a Luna Bar when I
was in America only to read the packaging afterwards with it in bold letters saying The Nutrition bar
for Women.
Even advertisers and marketers play on this notion. Lets take a look at several popular confectionery
and Food products and who feature in their advertisements.

Mars Bars | Snickers Bars | Gatorade | Burgers- Male

Malteasers | Starbusts | Sparking sodas | Cupcakes- Female

Picture Source

Because of these stereotypes, I used to find it increasingly difficult to listen to what I truly feel like
eating when Im out purely out of the fear of judgement or stigma. I would myself having to gravitate
towards protein heavy dishes (which I often do regardless), sticking to water instead of a vodka mixer
or even going to the point of asking my sister or female dining companion to order my order and then
switch once the meals arrive.

Am I any less masculine because Im choosing to have a salad with my steak over fries?

Am I any less masculine because I kind of want to look at the dessert menu?

Am I any less masculine because I feel like a pumpkin risotto instead of the pizza?


By identifying these subconscious actions, Ive come to the realisation that Im exemplifying the
stigmas surrounding certain food with gender. From now on, Ill make my own decisions regardless of
what society might deem as gender appropriate.

This stems back to my bad habit of being a people pleaser and something Ive been working on.
Were always going to be judged on anything we do- by friends, by family, by outsiders. What we need
to realise, male or female, is at the end of the day- we need to make decisions for OURSELVES
and what WE want. Its not selfish. Its self respect.

What are your general thoughts on food and gender stereotypes?

Do your day to day choices fuel this stigma?

What kind of food do you think is automatically associated with females or males?
Is meat male? Sarah Hampson on our perceptions of food and
The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Apr. 07, 2015 1:46PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Apr. 07, 2015 2:28PM EDT

It was because of spring. The severe winter cold had been great for one thing
only. The justification of French fries. Oh, and red wine. Now, the warming
temperatures demanded something light and green. Besides, there was our
health to think about.

Itll be good, I told my husband when he asked what we were having for

He offered me a solemn look from across our kitchen. Sweet, but solemn. The
sort of look your child gives you when you tell him that the first day of school
will be terrific, really, a chance to meet new kids and a nice teacher. My
husband is the one who usually cooks, not because I cant or dont like to, but
because he finds it relaxing at the end of a day. It had become our routine.

My experience with quinoa is not happy, he reminded me gently.

I had made a quinoa salad for him once before. I am British, he had
explained meekly. My digestive system is fond of potatoes.
(Tad Seaborn/For The Globe and Mail)

There isnt that much of it. Half a cup, I assured him. Mostly green stuff.
Kale. Some chickpeas.

Chickpeas. Geez. I cringed a bit. It suggests to your guy that youre going to
treat him to the culinary equivalent of a chick flick The Notebook perhaps.
Proteinpea would be a better name more gender-neutral. I looked at him to
gauge his reaction.

The rise of an eyebrow, thats it, as he sipped his beer and communed with his
I didnt dare tell him the name of the recipe. The Goddess Bowl.

It was from a bestselling cookbook, Oh She Glows, by Angela Liddon, who

lives in Oakville, Ont. Needless to say, theres no boy vibe to its content or
design. The recipes are vegan for one thing. And its filled with girl foods:
dishes with nuts, berries and almond milk; salads; meatloaf made with
lentils, apples, carrots and walnuts. Hey, He Grills could be the name of a
male-targeted cookbook if were going to go down this gender-stereotype road.
There would be rib-eye steaks, sirloin steaks and thick beef burgers.
Yes, the world was once divided into women in aprons and men in suits (and
children who never talked back), but that feels like life on another planet. Were
a long way past strict perceptions of gender roles and expectations. Whats
with the leftovers?

Recently to much consumer outcry Stonemill Bakehouse, a Canadian

bakery based in Toronto, introduced gender-based Wellbeing bread loaves in
grocery stores such as Loblaws, Sobeys and No Frills. The girl bread was
milder, lighter-textured and made with hemp and quinoa and fortified with
vitamin D and calcium. The bag was accented with pink. The boy bread in
a brown-accented bag was marketed as heartier with barley and rye, more
protein and fibre. The company has since withdrawn the packaging.

In fact, the idea of his and her food products has become a trend in recent
years. In 2013, a Greek yogurt called Powerful Yogurt was launched to appeal
to men. The packaging is black with a stylized graphic of a bull on the label.
The company and manufacturer in Florida, Powerful Men LLC, describe the
yogurt (or brogurt as some call it) as protein-packed, and in earlier marketing
materials which have since been removed they claimed that a zinc mineral
helped male fertility. A few years ago, Cadbury in Britain introduced a new
chocolate bar, Crispello, marketed to women as a dainty treat at a mere 165
calories. Bethenny Frankel, the reality-TV star who first came to fame on The
Real Housewives of New York City, launched her Skinnygirl cocktail brand in
2009, which has since been acquired by Beam Inc. and expanded its lineup of
alcoholic drinks. She has also created Skinnygirl protein bars, chocolate
nutrition bars and popcorn.

The reason? Research clearly shows that gendered ideas about foods are
deeply ingrained in the way individuals think about what is appropriate for a
man or a woman to eat. Some of the food-marketing campaigns set out to
counteract gendered ideas. Yogurt, for example, is considered girlie.

Interestingly, some of the research findings are reflections of what one

academic called perilous masculinity.

Take out your knife and fork, my friends. This is meaty stuff.

In a research project at the University of British Columbia, Meats, Morals and

Masculinity, researchers investigated peoples perceptions of omnivores and
vegetarians. Participants were asked to rate someones personality based on
a small amount of information, including their activities, gender, weight, height
and diet. Controlling for perceived healthiness of diets, the research showed
that both vegetarian and omnivorous participants found vegetarians to be
more virtuous and moral, but men who are vegetarian were perceived as
significantly less masculine than their omnivore counterparts. (The perception
of a womans feminity was not affected by her choice to eat meat or not.)
(Tad Seaborn/For The Globe and Mail)

The idea is that masculinity is much more vulnerable than femininity,

Matthew Ruby, a cultural psychologist and one of the authors of the study, said
in a telephone interview. In North America, manhood is earned through social
displays. It is much harder to attain and easier to lose. It is socially, rather
than biologically, determined.
Studies show that men are far more inclined than women to practise whats
known as gender identity maintenance. Just as the 1982 bestseller said, real
men dont eat quiche. Or rather, they dont dare, not in a social situation.

The need to convey a strong gender identity is part of what feeds the
omnivores dilemma, a term coined by Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology
at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to the moral and emotional pitfalls
brought on by the humans ability to eat anything. We get to choose what we
eat, in other words, and therefore, food has the power to telegraph messages
about who we are. In a paper, Is Meat Male?, published in the Journal of
Consumer Research in 2012, Rozin and three other professors at other
American universities examined cultural and gender associations with meat.

They asked people to free-associate about the maleness or femaleness of a

range of foods. Turns out, medium-rare steaks, hamburger and beef chili are
found to be most male. Sushi, chocolate, chicken salad and peaches are most

Some of their findings were counterintuitive. For example, they hypothesized

that foods from female animals milk and eggs would be symbolically linked
to femaleness. But that was not the case. And they also discovered that the
cooking or the processing of foods tended to make something more feminine.
Chicken salad was more female than broiled chicken, for instance.

Other researchers have pointed out the association between eating meat and
sex, reflected in the word carnality, which is derived from the Latin word for
meat or flesh. In Food for Thought: Purity and Vegetarianism, Julia Twigg, a
sociologist, wrote that blood in meat is associated with virility, strength,
aggression, power. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous books
recommended a vegetarian diet for boys as a way to limit masturbation, she
noted. She argued that meat was an expression of the patriarchy as it was the
men who hunted wild beasts and tamed or dominated nature, which was seen
as more feminine. In evolutionary history, it was the women who gathered
leaves and berries.
(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Meat also signifies prestige and wealth. In European countries, meat was
traditionally for the wealthy, for kings and lords, says Marilyn Morgan, a
professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who teaches a
course called Gender, Food and Culture in American History at Harvard
Summer School. When waves of immigrants came to North America from
Western Europe in the 1880s through to the 1920s, often to escape famines,
they were almost universally struck by the availability of food, especially meat,
which held strong cultural significance. Advertising campaigns through the
years have underscored these associations or tried to counteract them.
The meat-male-power trifecta is so much a part of the collective
consciousness that medical advice to limit red meat often gets ignored. Its
why manufacturers of veggie burgers put fake grill marks on their products.
And its also why business magazines publish counterintuitive stories about
the rise of the power vegans. American business magnate, Steve Wynn,
investor Mort Zuckerman, Ford executive chairman, Bill Ford, former president
Bill Clinton and Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone are all vegans. So is Mike Tyson,
the boxer who once bit Evander Holyfields ear.

When I read about people eating certain foods to uphold aspects of their
identity for others consumption, I always feel a little disappointed. Women
might eat meat on a first date, for example, to show that theyre not finicky
eaters. Or they might eat light foods to appear dainty. Really? I think. Do we
constantly have to worry how others are defining us? If its not what you eat
then its what you drive or where you live. Its exhausting to keep up such a
carefully managed front. If I want to eat chocolate, Im going to opt for a
honking great bar, not some dainty thing to make me feel better. And Im
certainly not going to rely on a choice of food to explain to someone what Im
like or what I think. I would use my mouth to speak out loud.

Still, awareness of our subconscious associations with food and gender

identity can help change habits. Turning back to the gender experiment of my
domestic laboratory, Im happy to report that the Goddess Bowl was well
received. I even found the courage to tell him the name.

Just let me know if Im starting to glow in a way you fancy, he teased.

The next night, it was his turn to set the menu.

What are we having? I asked.

Meat, of course, he said without raising his head as he concentrated on

chopping something. Im a man.

Food: An Important Part of Most Cultures

Written by Miranda Marquit 0 Comments



No matter where you go, its clear that one of the aspects of culture that is most important is
food. Indeed, one of the best ways to truly experience local culture when you travel is to try
the food. Food is a huge deal when it comes to culture. Nearly every culture has its own food,
and its own customs associated with eating food.

Food and Special Occasions

Think about how important food is on special occasions. When we have birthdays in Western
culture, cake and ice cream is a big part of the proceedings. Thanksgiving involves a turkey,
Easter is about the ham. But, of course, its not just Western culture that makes food an
interesting part of special occasions. Many cultures indulge in making lavishly delicious foods
for special occasions, from great feasts in Islamic countries, to the treats served for Indian
special occasions.

Food can also be symbolic. The Jewish passover comes to mind when I think of symbolic
foods. Almost everything eaten during the Seder meal has specific meaning. The symbolism
of the Seder meal is rather pronounced, and designed to help the partakers remember certain
events and concepts. Other cultures have symbolic foods as well, which are eaten for specific
reasons during special occasions and holidays. For a weekly symbolic food, consider the
Eucharist. Holy Communion is the very essence of taking food, combining it with ritual and
special occasion, and turning it into a symbol.

How We Eat

How we eat food also varies from culture to culture. The utensils used, as well as how they are
used (in modern Thai culture, the fork and spoon are used simultaneously, with the spoon
standing in as the knife), are also a part of culture and food. Place settings are also part of the
culture of how we eat. Just going to a restaurant in the United States usually yields at least
two forks, and possibly doubles of other utensils. Knowing which utensil to use, and when, is
an important part of food culture, whether you are using knife and fork, your hands, or picking
up your chopsticks.

In some cases, tradition dictates that food is consumed in a certain way. For example, when
eating nigiri sushi you want to do so in a way that the first thing touching your tongue is the
fish thats what you want to taste first! And, of course, in the United States and other
Western countries, there is an order to what we eat. We have appetizers, salads, soups,
entrees, and desserts. In some cases, there are numerous courses, served in a specific order,
depending on the formality of the dinner.

Bottom Line

Understanding the culture of food can make for a very interesting visit to any country, and
can help you avoid gaffes. Once you know what is good, and how it is eaten (my husband
often chides me for not eating enough rice when we eat Filipino food), you can have a richer
experience, whether you stay at home, or travel abroad.

People also connect to their cultural or ethnic group through similar food
patterns. Immigrants often use food as a means of retaining their cultural
identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods.
The ingredients, methods of preparation, preservation techniques, and
types of food eaten at different meals vary among cultures. The areas in
which families live and where their ancestors originatedinfluence food
likes and dislikes. These food preferences result in patterns of food choices
within a cultural or regional group.

Food items themselves have meaning attached to them. In many Western

countries a box of chocolates would be viewed as an appropriate gift. The
recipient of the gift would react differently to a gift of cabbage or carrots
than to chocolate. In other countries chocolates might be a less appropriate

Nations or countries are frequently associated with certain foods. For

example, many people associate Italy with pizza and pasta. Yet Italians eat
many other foods, and types of pasta dishes vary throughout Italy. Methods
of preparation and types of food vary by regions of a nation. Some families
in the United States prefer to eat "meat and potatoes," but "meat and
potatoes" are not eaten on a regular basis, nor even preferred, by many in
the United States and would not be labeled a national cuisine. Grits, a
coarsely ground corn that is boiled, is eaten by families in the southern
United States. A package of grits is only available in the largest
supermarkets in the upper Midwest and would have been difficult to find
even in large Midwestern supermarkets twenty years ago.

Regional food habits do exist, but they also change over time. As people
immigrate, food practices and preferences are imported and exported.
Families move to other locations, bringing their food preferences with
them. They may use their old recipes with new ingredients, or experiment
with new recipes, incorporating ingredients to match their own tastes. In
addition, food itself is imported from other countries. Approximately 80
percent of Samoa's food requirements are imported from the United States,
New Zealand, or Australia (Shovic 1994). Because people and food are
mobile, attempts to characterize a country or people by what they eat are
often inaccurate or tend to lump people into stereotypical groups.

Nevertheless, what is considered edible or even a delicacy in some parts of

the world might be considered inedible in other parts. Although food is
often selected with some attention to physical need, the values or beliefs a
society attaches to potential food items define what families within a
cultural group will eat. For example, both plant and animal sources may
contribute to meeting nutritional requirements for protein; soybeans, beef,
horsemeat, and dog meat are all adequate protein sources. Yet, due to the
symbolism attached to these protein sources, they are not equally available
in all societies. Moreover, even when the foods perceived to be undesirable
are available, they are not likely to be eaten by people who have a strong
emotional reaction against the potential food item.

Some food beliefs and practices are due to religious beliefs. Around the
world, Muslims fast during Ramadan, believed to be the month during
which the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, was given from God to the Prophet
Muhammad. During this month, Muslims fast during daylight hours, eating
and drinking before dawn and after sunset. Orthodox Jews and some
conservative Jews follow dietary laws, popularly referred to as
a kosher diet, discussed in Jewish scripture. The dietary laws, which
describe the use and preparation of animal foods, are followed for purposes
of spiritual health. Many followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism
are vegetarians, in part, because of a doctrine of noninjury or nonviolence.
Abstinence from eating meat in these traditions stems from the desire to
avoid harming other living creatures. Despite religious food prescriptions,
dietary practices vary widely even among those who practice the same faith.
Such variations may be due to branches or denominations of a religious
group, national variations, and individuals' or families' own degree of
orthodoxy or religious adherence.

In addition to impacting food choices, culture also plays a role in food-

related etiquette. People in Western societies may refer to food-related
etiquette as table manners, a phrase that illustrates the cultural expectation
of eating food or meals at a table. Some people eat with forks and spoons;
more people use fingers or chopsticks. However, utensil choice is much
more complicated than choosing chopsticks, fingers, or flatware. Among
some groups who primarily eat food with their fingers, diners use only the
right hand to eat. Some people use only three fingers of the right hand.
Among other groups, use of both hands is acceptable. In some countries,
licking the fingers is polite; in others, licking the fingers is considered
impolite (and done only when a person thinks no one else is watching).
Rules regarding polite eating may increase in formal settings. At some
formal dinners, a person might be expected to choose the "right" fork from
among two or three choices to match the food being eaten at a certain point
in the meal.

The amount people eat and leave uneaten also varies from group to group.
Some people from Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries might
leave a little bit of food on their plates in order to indicate that their hunger
has been satisfied (Kittler 2001). Cooks from other locations might be
offended if food is left on the plate, indicating that the guest may have
disliked the food. Similarly, a clean plate might signify either satisfaction
with the meal or desire for more food.

Even the role of conversation during mealtime varies from place to place.
Many families believe that mealtime is a good time to converse and to
"catch up" on the lives of family and friends. Among other families,
conversation during a meal is acceptable, but the topics of conversation are
limited. In some Southeast Asian countries it is considered polite to limit
conversation during a meal (Kittler 2001).

Food plays an important role in the lives of families in most cultures.

However, the degree of importance varies from culture to culture. For
example, in American Samoa most family activities and ceremonies center
on eating. A host family demonstrates its prosperity or societal rank by
providing large quantities of food (Shovic 1994). Among other families in
other locations, activities and celebrations include food, but food is not
necessarily the center of the event.

Food traditions vary widely throughout the world. Even among people who
share similar cultural backgrounds and some of the same food habits,
eating patterns are not identical. Further, families vary from their own daily
routines on holidays, when traveling, or when guests are present. Men eat
differently from women. People of different age groups eat differently.
However, in most parts of the world, food is associated with hospitality and
expression of friendship. Therefore, sensitivity to food rules and customs is
important in building and strengthening cross-cultural relationships.

Read more: Food - Food And Culture - Family, People, and Families -
JRank Articles

Bienvenidos, Cho mng bn, Benvenuto, Welcome

An Introduction to Food & Identity: From the Everyday to Ritual

and Beyond

Food, like language, exists as a vehicle for expressing culture. It has

the power of being both a biological necessity as well as a deeply
symbolic cultural artifact, one that connects us to one another on
several levels. Thus, we find it agreeable to say that food is a
mechanism for expressing identity that also has a social purpose. Our
food choices, as scholar Robin Fox argues, serve to symbolize how we
define ourselves in terms of religion, ethnicity, social class and so on.
That is not to say that food and identity are static, which is evidenced
by the current phenomenon of globalization that has increased human
interaction and the overlapping of cuisines. Additionally, food, and
consequently the circumstances under which we consume it, allows us
to connect and forge alliances with others (Fox, 2014, pg. 2). As Fox
suggests, Food is almost always shared; people eat together;
mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village
comes together. Food is an occasion for sharing for the expression of
altruism (2014, pg. 1). This powerful act of food sharing, which may
involve simple everyday foods to extravagant ritual foods, is thus
inherently layered with meaning for cultures throughout the globe.

How foods eaten everyday are classified as such vary across cultures,
and typically offer some insight to cultural norms, tradition, easily
accessible ingredients, and the influence of seasonality. For example,
in Vermont apples become much more everyday in the fall because of
their greater availability during the harvest season when they are ripe
for the picking. Individual cultures sometimes see their everyday
foods as being so commonplace as to be unworthy of study or as not
particularly insightful in order to gain an understanding of that culture.
Yet these foods often give not only insight into the cultures they
belong to, but also to the foods and palates of outsiders of that culture.

Everyday foods often vary across cultures and play a major role in
defining culture as well as identity. Individual cultures often see their
everyday foods as so commonplace that they are unworthy of study,
but these foods often give not only insight into the cultures they belong
to but also to the foods and palates of outsiders of that culture.
Cultures can both shape and be shaped by the foods they eat and the
foods they consider to be staples; additionally, an everyday food can
influence how outside cultures view that culture. Who hears Japanese
food and doesnt instantly think of sushi, or American food and
hamburgers, Italian food and pasta, Mexican food and tortillas? While
everyday foods can illustrate cultural identity, they can also create a
space for individual identity as well. In her article, If You Are What You
Eat, Then What Am I? Geeta Kothari discusses her childhood growing
up in an Indian family in the United States and how the foods they ate
differed from those of her American classmates. She outlines how
being different in terms of food culture and affected her family but also
her life as she grew up. She also touches upon how other Americans
expected her and her family to act and to eat, and how closely not only
her family but also others tied identity to food. Kotharis example
highlights the divide between actual everyday foods and assumed
everyday foods in one specific culture, but this divide can be extended
to everyday foods in any culture and the expectations surrounding
those foods, particularly the expectations of outsiders to that culture.
Everyday foods are one means of finding an identity in a culture or
struggling to fit into it, and what that means often varies from culture
to culture.
Rituals have the ability to create a space within an everyday space
that is sacred, or meaningful. When foods are incorporated into a ritual,
they have the potential to be the significant point that changes the air
of a space from ordinary to extraordinary. This idea can range from a
cozy ritual of making Christmas cookies with your family to the precise
and almost constraining practice of a Japanese Tea Ceremony. In either
case, the food is the central focus and the main reason for the ritual to
take place.

Rituals that involve food are often interactive; they require effort from
multiple individuals in order to perform the ritual properly. Because of
this, each individual involved plays a particular role thus helping to
define their identity within the community. For example, in Japanese
Tea Ceremonies, there is explicitly the host and the guests, who play
different roles surrounding the tea and the small amount of food
included in the ceremony. In addition, mastery of performing the
ceremony and correctly making the tea [constitutes] a process of self-
realization that is important to the practice of Zen Buddhism (Kondo,
1985, pg. 292) . By accomplishing this mastery, the participant of the
Tea Ceremony can feel a greater understanding of him or herself. This
same idea of self-realization, or a sense of identity within a community,
can be found almost anywhere where food is a marker of an
outstanding experience, from Japan to Burlington, VT.

When everyday or ritualistic foods are taken out of their original

context, they are manipulated, taking on new interpretations. Not only
does the movement of these foods manipulate their use and meaning,
but it also impacts their ability to act as vehicles for identity. These
manipulations and alterations can be seen within the culture of origin
as well as the recipient culture. Globalization, in combination with other
forces, has created a global food system that has advanced distribution
capabilities and the rate at which foods change contexts; but
understanding how these forces come into play can be challenging.
Kayatzyna J. Cwiertka has produced a series of works focused on
understanding these forces. Cwiertka proposes that the ways new
foods become distributed as luxuries, curiosities, necessities, or status
enhancers are describe through the lens of modernization (Cwiertka,
2008, pg. 409). The modernization of ritualistic and everyday foods is
one lens that will help understand how the meanings of food change as
they are distributed.
These processes can also be viewed in terms of nationalism.
Expressions of culinary nationalism claim ownership of culture, convey
authenticity, and even promote national identity. Contemporary work
on Japanese food has highlighted one example of this expression. Rumi
Sakamoto and Matthew Allen show how concepts related to nationalism
and authenticity come together. They propose that the Japanese state
uses sushi to mobilize their image of authenticity in order to increase
sales of Japanese products overseas (Sakamoto and Allen, 2011, pg.1).
This is just one interpretation of the manifestations of cuisines outside
their sphere of origin. Countless other foods like spaghetti, croissants,
dim sum, sashimi, and pho are now commonplace across the globe.
These foods have unique histories related to their production,
consumption, and ultimately how they are used as vehicles to express

These themes of food sharing, the classifications of everyday vs. ritual

foods, and the manifestation of cuisines outside of their sphere of
origin will stand as our guiding principles as we students of
anthropology delve into studying a diverse set of cultures. We seek to
find how food retains its ability to act as a mechanism of identity and
establishing cultural, ethnic, spiritual, and social belonging. We are
taking our readers on a culinary journey of the globe, making stops in
Mexico, Barcelona, Italy, and Vietnam bon apetit!

Works Cited:

Cwiertka, Katarzyna. Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and

National Identity Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Summer,
2008), pp. 406-410

Fox, Robin. Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective. Social

Issues Research Centre. Ed. SIRC. SIRC, n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.

Kondo, Dorinne. The Way of Tea: A Symbolic Analysis. Man 20.2

(1985): 287-306. JSTOR. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.

Kothari, Geeta. If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I? The Kenyon
Review 21.1 (1999): 6-14. JSTOR. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.
Sakamoto, R. & Allen, M. 2011, Theres something fishy about that
sushi: How Japan interprets the global sushi boom. Japan Forum: the
international journal of Japanese studies, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 99-121.


It was one of the pioneers of French gastronomy writing, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who penned the now
famous observation:

Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are.

This was a more opinionated version than that which is found in the Bible, to paraphraseCorinthians your body is
a temple. On the other side of the world Buddha was providing similar advice: keep the body in good health.
This insight presents as a human truism; it is reasonable to surmise that from the beginning of time, primordial
man would have been able to link good food with health (I know this does not reconcile evolution with the current
obesity epidemic).

Importantly, there is a difference between recognising that what you eat is what you are and that what
you eat constructs who you are. We symbolically consume identity through our food and drink choices more
specifically, by what we dont eat or drink.

Eating is an intensely personal act. What we eat communicates to others our beliefs, cultural and social
backgrounds and experiences. In the western world, testament to how we think about who we are, increasingly
we join fashionable dietary tribes, where we temporarily graze within before moving onto greener fields. Who
hasnt tried on for size at some time being a: vegetarian, paleo, vegan, piscatarian, halal, Atkins, etc.; or my
favourites, those that just hold their knife and fork high and find momentary solace in being a flexitarian?

All of these dietary choices have something in common; they are all opposed to being an omnivore. As apes,
even very civilized ones, we are omnivores. In its broadest term, an omnivore will eat anything. Uniquely perhaps
amongst animals, while we can digest the two main food groups (animals and/or plants), we have choice. All of
the dietary-tribes above are defined by their rejection of some aspect of everything. There are many reasons
why we exclude foods from our diet, from basic health needs to deep cultural and religious beliefs.

What is interesting is the role that food plays in constructing our identities. This is across psychological,
anthropological thinking, and also semiotically, in how the meaning is expressed. Something that all humans
share is also something that we use to differentiate ourselves on a daily basis.

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

James Beard


Its easy to think when reviewing literature on eating that there are too many chefs in the kitchen. Many
disciplines have their leading thinkers in the subject area and there is a tantalising array of papers to look at. With
this in mind, Im going to stick to some of the papers that are more topical to what Im currently looking at. Even a
quick and cursory exploration is useful to contextualise how food relates to identity.

Food is a highly condensed social fact

Arjun Appadurai


It is elementary that food is more than something alimentary. Semioticians have likened the use of food in
society and culture to language. As Roland Barthes, suggests

When he (modern consumer) buys an item of food, consumes it, or services it, modern man does not
manipulate a simple object in a purely transitive fashion; this item of foods sums up and transmits a situation; it
constitutes an information; it signifies.

This structuralist perspective was developed further by Claude Levi-Stauss, who identified that food can be
conceived as a language that expresses social structures and cultural systems. He posits that food must not
only be good to eat, but also good to think (with). I have discussed some of his influential approaches in
the preceding post.

As early as 1899, Thorstein Veblen in his work Conspicuous Consumption noted that food connotes class and
privilege. Subsequent studies have painted this picture in deeper relief. The sociologist Norbert Elias identified
the symbolic meaning of foods performing a significant role in determining social power and status relationships.
Likewise, Pierre Bourdieu has suggested that social stratification and class are defined by taste. In an influential
series of works Mary Douglashas looked at food as eating codes that define an individuals place within a society
and serve to actively maintain social order.

We find that the structure of society closely correlates to the nature of status foods:

Ethnographic research has revealed that an emphasis on quantity of food and elaboration of common staples is
found mostly in societies without strong social stratification, while an emphasis on quality and style is
characteristic of societies with institutionalized forms of social ranking. In the former context the consumption of
luxury foods is used primarily to create or enhance social bonds, in the latter to create or enhance exclusivity and

Jack Goody provides further insight about the social organisation of food. He has been able to illustrate that
societies where there is little lifestyle difference between members, special occasions are characterised by the
quantity of food. In comparison, in hierarchical societies where you tend to find sub-cultures, it is typical to find
quality and foreignness in food as the differentiators of status.

A characteristic of societies with social equality is that there tends to be a more equitable distribution of food. It
was the improved availability of food that was the main driver of the evolution of haute cuisine and fine dining, as
the upper-echelons of society moved to further differentiate themselves from the masses. High status foods are
characterised by rarity, cost, labour time, prominence of animal proteins and non-nutritional meanings and
associations. At the same time there was shift towards individuality and the separation of classes, which resulted
in eating innovations such as tables and cutlery.

This presents another paradox in how different cultures perceive eaters. Body image, in relation to food, is a way
of creating more social meaning. Where there was a shift away from status-meals defined by quantity, in cultures
where there is an abundance of food thinness is associated with privilege and status. Whereas, we find that in
societies where food is scarce, there is the perception that being overweight is a status marker.


Food can be used to mark and create relations of equality, intimacy or solidarity or, instead, to uphold relations
signalling rank, distance or segmentation. This can be illustrated by looking at the use of food to communicate
different types of class through consumption.

Arjun Appadurai

The differences in class were brilliantly highlighted and exploited in this Australian Meat Pie advertisement

Another example of this was in the broadcast on NPRs Wait, Wait, Dont Tell me. Where the hosts of the show
comment on a shared insight to NPRs audience:

PETER SAGAL But first, great news: according to a new study, listeners to NPR News are better informed than
people who get their news anywhere else. This is true. They asked everyone a series of questions about things,
and NPR listeners got more of the questions right than say cable TV news watchers. Of course, the questions
were a little slanted.

KASELL: To the best of your knowledge, which wine pairs best with a Prius?

Adrienne Lehrer discussed how this symbolism is co-opted by politicians to bolster their working man appeal.
This has left the American voters with a quadrennial entertainment watching potential leaders of the free world
struggle with some of the messiest foods that are even called sliders. Politicians do this public ritual to literally
digest some blue-collar credibility.
Pierre Bourdieu makes the observation that Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. He points to the
denial of lower forms affirms those that have taste: That is why art and cultural consumption are predisposed,
consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social function of legitimating social differences. Politicians can step
into the majoritys lives by sharing this daily bread and breaking these codes by stepping off the culinary podium.

This concept of food being a social marker of class is not limited to the western cultures; it is also present
in eastern cultures. Food:

was elevated at an early period [in China] from necessity to art, from sustenance to elegance; the
subsequent high cultural status assured that food would remain a key ingredient in the language and structure of
literature and art.

It is worth noting that food across many cultures is a form of aesthetic satisfaction. Speaking to all of our senses,
food words have become powerful metaphors in how we think about the world. Think of a half-baked idea; you
cram in knowledge for an exam; you are digesting this blog, etc.


Sidney Mintz has shown how these symbolic meanings change with different cultural, ethnic and class
considerations. Food, geography or place and identity are intertwined from a symbolic perspective. Wenying
Xu makes the important perspective that food is one of the ways that we engage with, and understand, other

Food operates as one of the key cultural signs that structure peoples identities and their concepts of others.

Bell and Valentine go into this definition in more detail, stating that national identity is linked to food:

The history of any nations diet is the history of the nation itself, with food fashion, fads and fancies mapping
episodes of colonialism and migration, trade and exploration, cultural exchange and boundary making

Ethnographically we find that ethnic identities are expressed and maintained through dietary choices. The food
that we eat can strengthen ties to your ethnicity on a day-to-day basis and it can also reflexively reinforce a
sense of identity when you are in another culture. English seeking fish and chips in Greece, Australians hunting
for Vegemite on Toast in Asia, and Americans looking for burgers everywhere, are examples of this identity
reinforcement on holidays. While Im focusing on food here, coffee, tea and alcohol are also used in similar

While not a focus here, it should be noted that in the fluid global world of exchanged culinary traditions, foods are
constantly reimagined and reinvented to suit the local culture. Often these can be cultural definitions; consider
the similarities and difference between the croquemonsieur to a toasted sandwich; a meat pie to a beef
wellington; or Japanese tempura to Portuguese battered fish. You dont have to be the originator of a concept just
to have a unique version that bonds a group of people. Consider the Cronut as a recent invention that speaks to
NYC but blends donuts and croissants from different cultures, unified in a glaze of American sugar.


The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves.

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Food can also speak to a political identity on a cultural level. Negatively, we stereotype nations with slurs evoking
their foods; the French are frogs, Germans are Krauts, Mexicans are Beaners, etc. However, we also hold in high
reverence the influence of cuisines from around the world and what they contribute to the global table.

The presence of McDonalds in Moscow is symbolic on a broader scale, representative of thetriumph of

capitalism over communism

Noting that Americas recent thaw in relations with Vietnam has led to A McDonalds doorman gesture during the
opening ceremony of the countrys first McDonalds restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City on February 8, 2014.


Identity can be defined as the individuals identification and belongingness to particular social groups on the
basis of differences socially sanctioned as significant

Aviva Shuman

In a more global world, cultural and ethnic boundaries are increasingly becoming more permeable. Food in
particular is available in more ethnic diversity. Here, Anthony Giddens has suggested that food should move from
a consumption model at a social group to one that reflects the individual consumption:
A paradox seems to emerge from this debate: it appears to conclude that diets become more different at the
same time that they become more similar. One way of reading this paradox is the shift from model to style.
While consumption model is a concept that refers to a social group (a community, a nation), style refers to the
individual behaviour. The individual, in his/her food consumption behaviour, loses any reference to any objective
belonging, to a family, a social group, a class, a community. He/she is driven only by his/her subjective choice, of
an ideological, hedonistic nature. Style choices are negotiated among a diversity of options, in a plurality of
contexts and authorities (Giddens 1991: 5)

This speaks to the societal shift from social classes that are defined by birth or later the type of job you have, to a
post-industrial society where individuals are defined by ideology or by what they consume. This thinking is related
to what Ulrich Beck defines as the individualisation process of reflexive modernity.

The reflexivity of modern social life consists in the fact that social practices are constantly examined and
reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their
character . . . only in the era of modernity is the revision of convention radicalised to apply (in principle) to all
aspects of human life. . . . (Giddens)

Beck believes that self-identity is determined more by lifestyle where people are presented a diversity of choices
in all areas of their lives. Becks conception is that the self is not a passive identity that is determined by external
influences. The self is a reflexive project sustained through the routine development and sustainment of a
coherent narrative of self-identity: our biographies (Giddens). Scott Lash identifies that in this context individuals
must innovate rules in a bricolage of their own identities. However, while we are more likely to identify ourselves
as being individuals, as creative as we get, it is our social interaction that regulates this sense of identity. Identity
without context is meaningless.

The current foodie culture and diversity of foods in western cultures has made food a much more democratic
facet of modern societies. As a style, it is something that consumers are increasingly food-literate and
empowered to comment on. As the food critic, Frank Bruni observes

Food is an aspect of culture that, because everyone necessarily participates in it to some degree, is more
egalitarian than, say, ballet, or opera, or even theatre. Its easier and less intimidating to join the fray and weigh in
with an opinion

Contributing to this are the swathe of entry points into the world of food for the modern consumer: celebrity and
contestant cooking shows, foodie magazines, websites and food festivals. Here everyone is invited to
voyeuristically or personally participate in a range of foods that we might never eat. Like sports, you dont have to
play to be a member of the club.


Food choices are central to the evolution of humans from apes. One of the most useful perspectives here was
proposed by Claude Fischler, who introduced the concept of the incorporation principle. He starts by defining
that humans are biologically omnivores. Being an omnivore is a paradox, in that we need novelty and are driven
to explore new foods, but are also fearful and reluctant to try new foods because they represent a risk.

The incorporation principle is defined:

To incorporate a food is, in both real and imaginary terms, to incorporate all or some of its properties: we
become what we eat. Incorporation is a foundation for identity.

Furthermore, on a broader level:

Thus, not only does the eater incorporate the properties of food, but, symmetrically, it can be said that the
absorption of a food incorporates the eater into a culinary system and therefore into the group which practises it,
unless it irremediably excludes him.

Food taboos, a favourite theme in anthropology, operate at this level: in order for a species to be defined as
taboo, it must have been already implicitly classified as food. If the forbidden food were not edible, there would
be no point in forbidding it.

The incorporation principle is another way of saying: who you are, is what you eat.

When we consider the social role of food, it is important that societies do influence and teach us what we can and
cant eat: social factors may be particularly important in influencing the development of preferences for foods
(Rogers and Blundell). An example of social food taboos was documented by Mary Douglas who detailed the
taboos and social factors that influence the preparation of meat in the Bible that differentiates the people of the

Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.
Zygmunt Bauman

Food choices for an individual are not fixed, naturally they develop and change over time; they are informed by
many different personal preferences, resources, identity needs and socio-cultural factors. One of the prominent
trends of modern western societies is the shift towards ethical consumption in the form of artisan, organic, local

Our food is safer and our diets are more diverse than ever before; production methods are becoming
increasingly sustainable, clean and efficient; and we are constantly becoming better at protecting biodiversity.

Louise Fresco

Bisogni, et al. have suggested here that diet and identity are mutually constitutive. However, an ethical issue
arises from the contradiction in the continued success of industrialised food economies of societies to also
achieve the individual goal of ethical shopping. However, while many consumers mindsets might project into this
way of thinking, this is not supported by what is selling in the marketplace. Mass produced food is selling very

These are muddied waters though. When big retail chains are selling organic products, this line is becoming
increasingly blurred and confused, leading some to question if there are reallyalternative ways of eating.

This has been framed with critiques of neoliberalism which has been described as capitalism with the
gloves off. Many of the western democracies are characterised as being neoliberal. Neoliberal governments by
definition have been consistently retreating from the basic needs provisioning and regulation of some areas;
correspondingly corporations and NGOs have been filling the gaps.

In this context, the rise of individual determinism around ethical consumer behaviour constructs roles for us as
citizen consumers. Here we have the freedom to vote with our money; to balance the competing ideologies of
self-interested consumerism with social and ecological citizenship. There is a dissonance when we are not in
balance here. Johnson rightly asks How did we get to the point where consumers are responsible for saving
the world by shopping?

Slavoj ieks has framed this type of behaviour as a pseudoactivity where our behaviour is not to ensure
change but to ensure that the status quo is maintained; its a way of postponing the moment when we really have
to think about doing something. He suggests this, like other behaviour such as recycling, are just ways
of restitution for our collective crimes.


Food makes the eater: it is therefore natural that the eater should try to make himself by eating
Claude Fischler

It is relatively easy to see there is a degree of consensus that food is more than something that fuels and
sustains us. Food is important for constructing and sustaining our identities, social boundaries and cultural
differentiation. Moving forward, the interesting thing to keep an eye on is our use of food as reflexive behaviour to
changes in society and culture. New trends and subcultures are likely to arise as we continue to experiment
collectively with our own individual identity recipes.

If we are eating ourselves into identity, an exploration of one of the oldest food taboos is informative to end on. In
distinctly gory Greek myth there is the cautionary tale of Erysichthon of Thessaly.

A king of Thessaly ordered Demeters entire grove of trees to be cut down and in the process, one of her dryads
(guardian spirit) was killed in the felling. Demeter responded to the Dryads curse by entreating Limos (the Greek
version of famine) to plague him. The more he ate the hungrier he got. In the end he eats himself through hunger.

Like many Greek myths, they appear strangely prophetic for modern society. Many of our contemporary ethical
shopping behaviours are to construct a vision of ourselves, as Erysichthon, before the grove was cut down. We
are obsessed with the pre-modern past in contemporary culture. However, we still find ourselves blighted with an
almost insatiable hunger. Perhaps a concern is that iek is right and we are the pseudoactivity of consuming
ethical choices, which is not a meaningful to solution to modern consumption contradictions. We fear empty
calories in a healthy diet; perhaps for our identity projects we fear empty-symbolism just as much. It is hard to
construct identity on illusions.

Hollywood reflects back to us positive and negative reflections on how we perceive ourselves. Following the
discussion that food is as much about the consumption of meaning as nutrition, it is informative that we fine
Zombies everywhere as themes in literature, movies and TV.
Zombies are the antithesis of the entire premise of this blog you are what you eat. As Zombies, you dont die,
you exist dehumanised; you lose your freedom, personal sovereignty, individuality, existing in alienation as a
parody of the modern condition, indiscriminately consuming with no purpose. A thought for food.