Overthinking a Plate of Beans
January 7, 2013 12:14 PM Subscribe
The five scholars explored the question, “What is the meaning of food?” and debated its role in ethnic and religious tensions. They also examined the possibility that “food, which is something that all of us share, albeit in different ways, can be used to bring people together instead of differentiating between us.” According to Goldstein, one of the most important ideas to come out of the group was that food is a social process rather than a commodity and thus is central to multicultural understanding: “[Food] has to do with how we live and it’s not just an object that we ingest.”
Food: History & Culture in the West
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[PDF], was a 2010 UC Berkley Symposium exploring multiple links between food and culture:
A few topics of note:
What role does food play in people’s lives beyond nutrition? What kind of cultural conflicts or misunderstandings have arisen over national or regional food traditions? Alternately, how can food be used to bring different groups together across cultural differences?
When we talk about “authentic” cuisines, as in “authentic Italian food” or “authentic Mexican food,” what determines the authenticity of these dishes? How important is it to preserve the food traditions of certain regions, such as a particular way of making noodles (spaghetti, pho, ramen), French onion soup, or burritos? Should we worry about food traditions that change over time as people forget recipes or experiment with new ingredients or populations migrate to new places?
What are the effects of fast food restaurants on neighborhoods and on the culture at large? Can there be positive effects of fast food restaurants? What is the attitude toward McDonald’s in foreign countries like France, Italy, China, and Russia?
What assumptions do people often make about vegetarians beyond their food practices? (Political beliefs? Class? Education? Religious beliefs?) How was vegetarianism connected to 19th-century social reforms and romanticism throughout Europe? How did vegetarianism become a tool for nationalism under the Nazis? What is the relationship between food production and national security?
Related: How Food Replaced Art as High Culture