As noted by Yao Zi, eating, cooking, and food are quite essential in Chinese culture. Health also cannot be left behind since it goes hand in hand with proper diet. However, food impacted largely on the country’s economy as compared to health. Food and consumption unified all classes of people in the Chinese culture and therefore brought closeness and harmony in relationships. This culture was so established that a number of metaphors in the Chinese language were coined relating to beautiful women, there was a kitchen god and the fame of the kitchen in every household was witnessed. Every household bribed the kitchen god with presents such as sweets whereas every family owned a strove, which signified unity.
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Ancestral worship and family unity are major components of this culture. (Rogasaki, 2004) therefore food and health impacted equally on the Chinese culture and society. Food consumed by an individual brought about the Yin and Yang balance in the body.
The imbalance of any nature could result in diseases. Food and diet played a major role in the Chinese way of life such that even greetings were intertwined with health and diet i.e. have you eaten? As much as food unified the Chinese people, it also divided them where presentations, as well as cooking food, were taken to be aspects of civilized individuals. The civilized individuals were viewed as “cooked” while the uncivilized were seen as “raw”. Therefore, an individual’s social status and cultural identity were directly connected to food practices in medieval times.
Medicine was a respected profession with the prescription pharmacy being the most respected. Scholars produced nutritional and medicinal books covering everything to do with food from consumption to production. The Confucian qualities of moderation and frugality impacted hugely on food and society. Following food shortages in medieval times, excessive eating was contrary to the frugality and moderation ideals. Individual’s food intake was seen as a moral duty.
The Chinese were aware of the labor involved in food production. Increased trade resulted in widespread urbanization where farmers moved to the cities in search of wealth, as a result, food production decreased. Consequently, the food market depending on increased trade due to the fact that food ingredients were not restricted by Chinese religious taboos hence the Chinese food could easily vary. (Rogasaki, 2004)
There was also a market for slaughtered animals in the local market. Daoists, Buddhists as well as Confucianists harbored the belief that mistreatment killings of animals were morally wrong. Conversely, they at times went contrary to this belief by eating animals that were already killed by others. Buddhism advocated for vegetarianism and was against any instances of animal mistreatment. One is not supposed to kill or own animals according to Daoists.
Although they do not enforce absolute vegetarianism, they entertain animal suffering. Mencius and Confucius both ate fish and meat, however, they stated that one should avoid mistreating animals, in respect to eating they advised people to avoid bovines and horses. Following the fact that the three major religious and philosophical thoughts in China condemned the slaughter of animals whereas the demand for meat existed, the meat market still existed.
In conclusion, it emerges that health and longevity were major reasons as to why food was fundamental in the Chinese way of life.
Rogasaki, R. Hygienic modernity, Beijing: Yue Ding Publishers, 2004.