When I first took Sociology of Food, I was curious. What could food and sociology have to do with each other? Food, I thought was more of an anthropological study; as an anthropologist may seek to examine how different cultures feed themselves. What do these different different cultures eat? What strange foods? What foods do they have in common with people from my own country? I learned that food and society intersect at interesting points. Here are 3 things you will learn if you study the sociology of food.
1. Food brings people together.
Think of your family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I repeat: food brings people together. I remember one of my last nights in Nepal, I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with the father of another Hanover grad, Gopal Pokhrel. I got to talk to the family as I did research for my Richter Grant, but even better, I got to eat all kinds of home-cooked Nepalese food. For that evening, though we lived miles and miles away, we were family. That's what food does.
2. Food separates people.
Food helps us draw distinctions between other people. The Palm, a fancy restaurant, helps draw the distinction between rich people food and poor people food. Rich people can afford to eat meals that take time; lobster, crab, many course steak meals. Poor people, on the other hand, cannot afford to spend time on their food. They eat pre-packaged foods like TV dinners. Food is also gendered. Men eat meat, like hot wings, while women eat less messy foods like salads. Food separates different cultures - think of how different Thai food is from American food. Food also separates different religious groups; kosher food, halal food. Some Buddhists practice vegetarian food practices for religious and ethical reasons.
3. Food oppresses people.
Food oppresses people. This is probably one of the more shocking entries on this list. I wrote about it in another blog entry on this same blog, entitles The Consequences of our Coffee. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome that I can get cheap food wherever I want, and it's also awesome that I can take my U.S. dollar to many countries in the third world and live like a king for a week. But on the other end of all this taken-for-granted awesomeness. We get cheap mass-produced products from farmers, who produce these goods - like coffee - in large quantities. The problem? High supply drives down the income they can get from their product. Essentially, we and other people who enjoy an economy of mass-produced goods, are buying into a system that promotes the virtual slavery of others. This is a very Marxist problem.
So wwhat is the answer to this problem?
Wendell Barry suggests in his article, "The Pleasures of Eating" that consumers become more aware of the consequences of their food choices. He argues for more informed, local consumption of goods.