Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Food as a Cultural Marker

Eating is not just a biological practice (Claxton). It is a cultural practice and as such reflects our personal and social identity (Cornejo Happel, 2012). Food plays a central role in the construction of both identities and stereotypes. In fact, stereotypes based on food are effective ways of disparaging others (Leizaola, 2006) as for instance ethnic slurs based on food illustrate: kraut, spaghettis, macaroni eaters, eskimo, frogs, roast-beefs, hamburgers, baguette-heads, the watermelon stereotype...

 

Positive food stereotypes are sometimes actively reinforced in order to meet e.g. tourists' expectations (Leizaola, 2006). Negative views are often expressed through food taboos: Those who respect the taboos are better than the others - better than the "Barbarians".
In other words, food demonstrates ethnicity and ethnocentrism through emotions ranging from contempt to disgust (De Garine, 2001). Food can be a highly emotive issue, indeed. Dog eating, for instance, is mainly criticised by Western societies, some calling for a total ban. This criticism provokes reactions as food is seen as part of culture and the criticism is regarded as one referring to a cultural practice. In South Korea, one of the few countries where dog eating is practiced, many people seem to be against banning dog meat (the study/survey referred to the dog species that was bred for this purpose only and not to any other practices). At the same time, many South Koreans do not seem to approve dog eating either and only eat dog meat twice or three times a year. Defending food seems to be defending identity (Podberscek, 2009).



Claxton, M. (n.y.) Culture, Food, and Identity.via
Cornejo Happel, C. A. (2012) You are what you eat: Food as expression of social identity and intergroup relations in the colonial Andes, Cincinnati Romance Review, 33, 175-193
De Graine, I. (2001) Views about food prejudice and stereotypes. Anthropology of food. Social Science Information, 40(3), 487-507
Leizaola, A. (2006) Matching national stereotypes? Eating and drinking in the Basque borderland. Anthropological Notebooks 12(1), 79-94
Podbersczek, A. L. (2009) Good to Pet and Eat: The Keeping and Consuming of Dogs and Cats in South Korea. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 615-632

Photos by Elliott Erwitt via and by F. C. Gundlach (1955) via

14 comments:

  1. Daringly interesting article! Smashing idea to bring those western images into the game, by the way.

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    1. "Daringly" - as if you could read my mind ... To be honest, I was a bit afraid of being misunderstood. Your reaction makes me more relaxed ;-) Thank you for your comment!

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  2. In the first second I was like "cuuuuute"... but then I read the text and was like "aaaaaaaah". Hahahaha, I love your blog!!!

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    1. You described your reaction so vividly, I could almost "see" you ;-) Thank you so much, Karen!

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  3. For the record: this blog is my church!

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    1. Derek, oh Derek, thank you sooo much ;-)

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  4. Clever posting, Madame :-)

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  5. Absolutely clever, nice trick with the photos!

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  6. Abbie Winterburn2 October 2013 at 13:45

    A kind of shockingly fun - and clever.

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    1. Hopefully more fun than shock ;-) Thank you for your feedback!

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