Food Anthropology as the Study of Food in Diverse Cultures


Food anthropology is the study of food and in diverse cultures. The main focal point of this study is investigation within both cultural context and cross civilization of how food was made by men and women both in the past and present times. While the main concern of food is to offer nutrition to the human body, food has also been taken on an artistic, religious, and social status context. This field is closely related to food science (Meachen 68).

Anthropologists have come to study culture s over time and food is one of those subjects that are regarded very fundamental to survival of human in this world. A factor mostly considered by many is the diet that has been changing from time immemorial. It has always been cited that modern civilization was conjured in Greece and the culture of diet is highly attributed to the Greek civilization (Mahindrum 78). Nutritional anthropology which has been the study of how diet has evolved over time, takes into account how man used to find food and how it was prepared. The ramification of lack of food is great that it cuts across all spheres of human life.

Origin of Food

Food anthropology covers the source of foods and where they were first derived from. Questions such as where did certain foods come from and how they were first cooked is the main goal of studying food anthropology. From the time a baby is born, food has been important to survival of man. A baby is first given milk when they are born at it is from this stage that food remains a big part of human life. The importance of food transcends from being part of survival but as aw form of bonding between people.

Modern Cooking

The beginning of modern cooking did not start the other day but started as soon as man found out that other human beings existed. Eating is much a social urge and has always been shared. Humans are the only animals that cook. Theorists have come up with categories of food; proteins which include, all meats i.e. red and white meat, vegetables, grain, examples which include corn and dairy products, examples include milk, cheese.

As times have changed we have started embracing the consumption of all categories of food eaten s a balanced meal. In poorer or less developed countries, here is the consumption of only one category of food by most people. For example in Africa, staple foods mostly comprise of carbohydrate foods derived from grains. In more developed countries, there is a steady balance of foods where all categories i.e. proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins are provided in one meal.

However in modern times, some foods have been labeled as harmful due to health effects (Ungar 221). Modern cooking has tended to ignore the importance of nutritional factors of food and more emphasis is being placed more on food habits, which have always changed over time. In the past, the French mostly ate white bread while the Germans have been found to eat food that mostly comprised of alcohol in the form of beer and also dark bread. It has been discovered that all of these diet were nutritionally healthy and has also been attributed to the main reason that the Germans defeated the French.

It is an accepted fact that the diverse cultures of the globe, go to great extents in order to obtain food as well as to cook it. It has been found that there are foods that man cannot eat and would rather travel some distance in order to get access to others. For example, with the abundance of dogs around it is very rare to hear of someone eating a dog, unless he/she is in one of the Asian countries. In fact the Chinese have been a source of satire regarding their choice of food.

The Vietnamese used to joke among themselves that the best way they would have won the war was by inviting the Chinese who would eat anything. It has been found that all people can eat anything if they are extremely hungry. The English have been found to look for other foods yet they have plenty of horses around. These are just a few examples of what anthropologists have discovered about modern food and cooking.

History of Cooking

Before further discussion on modern food we have to first know how it started and how it has progressed so far. No clear proof has been ascertained as to when man started cooking but many assumptions have been placed. Richard Wrangham has put several theories forward as to when cooing was invented and one of them states that it started approximately 1.8-2.3 million years ago. While other scholars have estimated it to have started about 10,000-40,000 years back (McBride 89).

The discovery of cooking is highly linked to the discovery of fire by man as cooking highly depends on a source of heat. Anthropologists have estimated that cooking first started with the use of hearths and ovens made of mud (Teaford 101). Ancient hearths first appeared in ancient Europe and its use quickly replicated to other continents. This saw to the discovery of different foods in all the corners of the globe. In Northern America it has been found that they used fire cracked rocks as a source of heat during cooking. This is as early as three thousand, five hundred years ago. In Britain, the same exist but were known under a different name i.e. burnt mounds.

Methods of Cooking

There are several methods of cooking that have been conjured by man. Theses methods have been in existence since time immemorial but the technique of application varies from continent to continent, culture to culture. There is baking, roasting, steaming among others. The most current method is microwaving which involves warming food with the aid of a microwave oven. Every method has its way of application and each produces a different effect on the food being prepared. Some methods are though to be more suitable in some situations than others (Magelyar 202). Cooking is said to add to the delight of discovering new tastes and adds an impression of sophistication to men depending on what is being eaten and how it has been cooked.

Cooking as a Science

As the process of cooking has evolved so has the need for its study and application of skill and knowledge to it. Many fields regarding cooking have emerged such as food hospitality and gastronomy. It is from these two that sub disciplines such as food science have been conjured. The close collaborations between biochemists, chefs and physicists have led to many contributions that have been important to food preparation and acquirement (Robson 21).

The field of food biochemistry has been formed and this has led to the study of important processes that are important to food preparation. Fermentation and malting are just a few of the processes. The science of food also covers how food should be preserved once cooked. Scientists have discovered that food preservation is heavily dependent on the environment. Techniques related to preservation greatly vary depending on the environment and the nature of the food itself. An example of food preservation technique is freezing of foods. This has been in use since the early days of cooking foods.

People inhabiting in places of low temperatures discovered that food stayed for a longer time before going stale. This was and is because of how temperature has an effect of deactivating bacteria which are responsible for food going bad. This principle has led to the invention of the refrigerator. Other methods of preservation include, drying, salting. The preparation of food involves the alteration of the chemical structure of the food and also involves physicals aspect of stirring and utilization of heat. It is from this perspective that one can really appreciate the importance of food science (Kent 1992).

In modern times, food chemistry is fast becoming big business as large firms are hiring food scientists, biochemical scientists and dieticians to come up with different recipes and foods that will be incorporated into their product lines. Food physics comes into play during the preparation of food.

Cooking as an Art

Since all human beings must eat for survival. The types of food together with the method of preparation have become important symbols as to how we want to be identified (Katz 48). Man has always wanted to set themselves apart from others through the addition of unique styles to food. Hence the fields of cuisine and culinary studies have emerged. Different waves of food and methods of cooking continue to bombard us on a daily basis just as new music and fashion continue to do so. Culinary chefs employ ingredients and spices that are not commonly found amongst the population. Food is taken as an art form just as clothes and music.

Chefs have cooked different kinds of food resulting in many food designs that have even been entered into competitions just as works of art are done to. These days we have celebrity chefs who are renowned for their skill in cooing and to some degree this skill can be regarded to as an art.

Food Safety

The process of cooking and preparing food is filled with dangers. If not properly prepared, food can be harmful. Dangers manifest themselves through poisoning or exposure to bacteria and viruses. The most prevalent source of danger emanates form the spread of bacteria in the body through food. It has been discovered by scientists that the temperature that describes the danger zones for food has been established and found out to be from around forty one degrees centigrade to around fifty seven degrees centigrade. It is between these temperatures that bacteria have been found to survive and thrive (Macbeth 42).

People must always be on guard when eating foods that have been exposed to these temperatures. Cooked food may appear as if it is okay to eat but can be very harmful to health if ingested without proper handling and preservation. Researchers have come up with standards of preservation in order to ensure that food is safe for consumption.

Proper food handling goes al long way in ensuring that safety of food is maintained. Washing and sanitization of kitchen utensils ensures that food is not contaminated during preparation. Cutting boards are the most notorious areas where bacteria have been found to hide. Sanitization of cooking utensils leads to lesser cases of illnesses. Viruses can be found in foods that t have been exposed to the natural elements over a long period of time. Foods made from potatoes are especially prone to viral attacks due to the fragile nature of potatoes.

Locations of Cooking

The process of cooking has been long-established to be done in the house but in modern times, cooking is now being done outside the house in locations such as hotels and bakeries. Home cooking is perceived to be for purposes of socialization as opposed to cooking in external locations such as hotels where it is perceived that food consumed in such environments are for official purposes (Macbeth, 85). It is common these days to find food being prepared out in the public, where many people are passing through. Fast food can be sold in open spaces and along busy streets, this increases the chance of contracting food poisoning as the source and the location is not appropriate. The food risks exposure to dust and other natural elements. In other countries, the sale of roadside food is prone to strict rules and regulations that should are enforced with the help of he local security officers.

Works Cited

Katz, Solomon. Encyclopedia of food and culture. London: Oxford Publishers, 2003. Print.

Kent, Susan. Diet, demography, and disease: changing perspectives on anemia. New York: CRC Publishers, 1992. Print.

Macbeth, Helen. Researching food habits: methods and problems. New York: Berghahn Books, 2004. Print.

Magelyar, M. Johnson. Handbook of medical anthropology: contemporary theory and method. New York: Greenwood Press, 1996. Print.

McBride, Francis. Rapid assessment procedures for nutrition and primary health care: anthropological approaches to improving program effectiveness. London: Oxford Publishers, 2005. Print.

Mahindrum, Shah. Food contaminants: origin, propagation and analysis. Bombay: APH Publishing, 2004. Print.

Meachen, Rau. Food and Cooking in American History. California: Gareth Stevens, 2006. Print.

Robson, Kevin. Food, ecology and culture: readings in the anthropology of dietary practices. Sydney: P. Blackstone’s Son & Co.2002. Print.

Teaford, Mark. Nutritional Anthropology. New York: A.R. Liss, 1987. Print.

Ungar, Peter. Human diet: its origin and evolution. London: Bergin & Garvey, 2002. Print.

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