Author: Vatika Sibal
Site of publication: ResearchGate
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: September 2018
People also connect to their cultural or ethnic group through food patterns. Food is often used as a means of retaining their cultural identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods. The areas in which families live and where their ancestors originated influence food like and dislikes. These food preferences result in patterns of food choices within a cultural or regional group.
In religion, food is one of the most important parts of religious ceremonies. The role of food in religious culture is an important part of showing respect among their communities and many of these religions obey the religious commandments, hence food is prepared in different ways. The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is, it has a rich cultural base. Beyond merely nourishing the body, what we eat and with whom we eat can inspire and strengthen the bonds between individuals, communities, and even countries. There is no closer relationship than the one with the family and food plays a large part in defining family roles, rules, and traditions. It helps us to discover attitudes, practices, and rituals surrounding food, it sheds light on our most basic beliefs about ourselves and others. There is a relationship between culture and food. This negotiates our identities, cultures and environments.
Food is seen more than just a means of survival. According to Barthes food is considered to be multidimensional, as something that shapes us, our identities, and our cultures and in the end, our society. Just as different clothes signify different things example the white coat a doctor, the uniform of a police officer or army personnel, food also transmits a meaning. But the meaning varies from culture to culture. Furthermore, food could not be viewed as a trope if it did not signify a meaning of something to begin with, for example: tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese on a pizza signify a taste of Italy. In addition, various food tropes are used in everyday life: Many scholars have analyzed the relationships between food, identity and communication. One of the most common ways we use food is in the construction of our personal identities. But can food operate as a sole factor in the identification of a group or an entire nation? Does food have its place within a broader set of values linked to age, religion, social status, of which some are closely linked to diet, while others have no link to food? Is the position of food flexible, or is it central (or trivial) in the formation of one’s identity?
The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is, it has a rich cultural base. Beyond merely nourishing the body, what we eat and with whom we eat can inspire and strengthen the bonds between individuals, communities, and even countries
Religion and Food is also connected which adds meaning and significance to our lives. Some food beliefs and practices are based on religion. Around the world, Muslims fast during Ramadan, believed to be the month during which the Quran, 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 which is part of their 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 non-injury 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 this we can understand that food conveys religious sentiments of the people, making them unique and having their own identity.
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. In some countries, licking the fingers is polite; in others, licking the fingers is considered impolite. 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.
Food plays an important role in the lives of families in most cultures. However, the degree of importance varies from culture to culture. In many families, activities and ceremonies center on cooking and eating habits. A host family demonstrates its prosperity or societal rank by providing large quantities of food. 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.
As food culture has undergone transformations and developments, so has it also caused changes in some places? Without discarding its own customs and traditions, food culture in many regions could gain a new visual identity, and help us to better understand our own culture and those of others. The multicultural character of contemporary different cuisines is the result of the specific circumstances in which regions identify themselves, and yet its authenticity and cultural preservation is maintained.
Food plays an important role in the lives of families in most cultures. However, the degree of importance varies from culture to culture. In many families, activities and ceremonies center on cooking and eating habits. A host family demonstrates its prosperity or societal rank by providing large quantities of food. Among other families in other locations, activities and celebrations include food, but food is not necessarily the center of the event
Food has symbolic meanings based on association with other meaningful experiences. An example of the symbolic meanings including food references can be found in many of our common expressions. Bread is a good example of the symbolism found in foods. When people sit together with friends at a meal they are said to break bread with one another. This expression symbolizes a setting where friends come together in a warm, inviting and jovial manner to eat.
In conclusion, understanding a culture through food is an interesting process because once a person starts asking these questions, such as how something is made, what ingredients are in it, or why it is called a certain way, the answers obtained go beyond culinary learning. In these answers, food tells us something about a culture’s approach to life. In the end, we can say that food functions symbolically as a communicative practice by which we create, manage and share meanings with others. Understanding culture, habits, rituals and tradition can be explored through food and the way others perceive it.
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