Culture is an aspect that distinguishes every individual from the other in terms of what they believe in and their places of origin (Anderson, 2014). Culture defines the ways of life of human beings as well as the manner in which they communicate and interact with their neighbors (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013). In a similar way, food is an integral part of the human life. It is a basic need for every individual that supplies the human body with various nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. There is a close relationship between food and culture given that a given group of people belonging to different cultures tend to have a set of preferred foods. Additionally, the constituents, manner of preparation, and the methods of preservation as well differ from one culture to the other. Because of this reason individuals have the habit of relating to their cultural and traditional groups via the similar food patterns. Therefore, this research paper shall endeavor to discuss how food depicts culture.
The Relationship between Food and Culture
In some parts of the world, certain kinds of foods have particular meanings. In North America and other European nations, a box of chocolate is considered a perfect gift. In these regions, the recipient of a gift would appreciate more if you issued them with a box of chocolate than a sack of cabbages and carrots as gifts (Montanari, 2006). In Africa, for instance, where generosity is measured by the amount of food you can offer to guests, a sack of cabbages and potatoes would be a much more appropriate gifts compared to boxes of chocolates.
Some kinds of foods are also associated with certain countries. For instance, foods like pasta and pizza are mostly associated with Italians. A person may be misled to believe that these are the only cuisines available in Italy, yet there are numerous other types of dishes that are consumed by their nationals. In fact, there are several types of pasta dishes in that country. Similarly the dish “meat and potatoes” is a popular food in the United States and one might be tempted to think that it is the national cuisine. It is not because not many families eat the dish often enough for it to be considered a staple food. Just like Italy, there exists a variety of cuisines that are consumed throughout the country. For instance, grits is a popular dish in the Southern United States but is only available in the largest Supermarkets in upper Midwest.
Although they have gradually been eroded, food habits do exist in various regions. That is to say that people particular regions believe that that certain foods must be prepared in certain ways. As people move into new locations, they come along with their food preferences. Therefore, as people migrate to other regions, foods habits are exported from certain regions and imported into others (Ashley, Hollows, Jones & Taylor, 2004). These habits may be expressed in the mixing of recipes and ingredients. Old recipes may be used in conjunction with new ingredients, or new recipes may be adopted to match the individual tastes and preferences of the individuals. Close to 80% of Samoa’s food requirements are imported from New Zealand, Australia or the USA because of their belief in foods grown in those places (Kittler, Sucher & Nelms, 2011). Due to the mobility of food and people, the characterization of countries and their inhabitants by what is often consumed there is inaccurate and simply lumps peoples into stereotypical groups.
The edibility of foods can also be used to express culture. Some types of delicacies such as corn, rice and wheat can be consumed all over the globe. There are, however, others that can only be consumed in certain areas for various reasons. Most people consider the edibility of food with regard to the nutritional requirements. For others, the primary consideration is whether those foods conform to the values and beliefs of the society which they emerge. For instance, both animal and plant sources can contribute to the nutritional requirement for proteins. Beef, soybeans, dog meat and horsemeat are all adequate sources, but their availability as foods depends on the symbolism attached to them (Asgar, Fazilah, Huda, Bhat & Karim, 2010).
Research has shown that religion is an integral part of a culture and, therefore, religious beliefs frequently influence the food beliefs and eating habits of some groups of people such as Christians, and Islam (Kittler, Sucher & Nelms, 2011). For instance, the members of the Catholic Church believe that eating meat on Good Friday during the Easter season is a taboo. Indians and Buddhists are famous for their belief that no one should eat meat or any food prepared from beef because of the provision of the doctrine of nonviolence. Muslims also hold the opinion that fasting during Ramadan is important for every person belonging to the Islam fraternity. During this period, Muslims are urged to stay without any food throughout the entire day and eat or drink water following the sunset. Members of some churches like the Orthodox Jews, eat various foods depending on the laid down dietary laws called the Kosher diet. The principles of these dietary laws are contained in the Jewish scripture, and it even provides a description of bot the manner of using and preparing foods made from animals with the aim of attaining spiritual health. Besides playing a vital role in influencing the decision on what type of food to eat, culture also affects the food-related etiquette of different people (Montanari, 2006). In the Western culture, ‘table manners’ is a term that defines the minimum standards of behavior when people are taking a meal together at the table. Eating with a fork and spoon or even eating with fingers or chopsticks may be considered acceptable depending on a person’s cultural beliefs. In most formal settings, people eat with forks, knives, and spoons. Therefore, there are particular rules of dining that dictate the manner of using this cutlery in the Western Culture. Although a particular culture dictates that eating with fingers is standard there are more specific cultural expectations that further define the manner in which it is done. For example, some communities state that a person eating with their fingers should use only three fingers and that the utilizing the left hand is wrong. At the same time, some communities do not prohibit people from eating with either of their hand. Different cultures have also expressed diverging views on the issue of liking finger. While some people believe that this habit is rude and unacceptable, other people find no fault in doing so because they argue that it is polite.
There is arguably no better aspect of human life to express culture than food. This paper has focused on describing the manner in which various foods express culture in different societies. The paper has described how food can be used to express generosity and be issued as gifts. Further, the paper has also expressed ho certain cuisines are exclusively associated with certain countries to the extent that they are considered to be the staple foods. Food habits, as well as the edibility of certain foods, also express the restrictions culture has put on the consumption of various foods. Additionally religion as an important aspect of some cultures also plays a role in determining which cuisines are appropriate for its members. Culture also prescribes the acceptable standard of behavior when eating, also known as etiquette.