Although many people argue that culture, which is people’s way of life, is the main determinant of people’s diet, I believe that most instances do not always present this as the case because, based on my observation of people’s dietary methods, I have found a differing relationship between people’s culture and their food preference. For a long time, people’s cultural background has been thought to influence the type of food they eat, as well as the tastes they have for certain foods.
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Many publications have tried to convince people that the food they eat is a product of their culture and that culture defines the different tastes they have for foods. One question persists, is culture a factor to consider when analyzing people’s eating habits? This essay tries to explain that, even though people claim that culture influences dietary habits, as some people argue, the claim is misleading, as culture is of little significance in people’s dietary decision-making.
As a counter-argument, different cultures have a variety of foods with which they often relate themselves. Some foods are found in only one region of the world and worse off in one ethnic or racial group, which more often has the same culture. This observation has made people conclude that the culture of people delineates the foods available to them, their dietary habits, and their taste preferences.
In fact, MacClancy states, “…an ideologically significant part of a culture may well be its distinctive cuisine” (66). Some rules also exist in these cultures about how to cook their foods, as well as the meal combinations that are expected. These resemble the current cookbooks. They restrict the particular cultural group into following these set standards. Some cultures have even gone a step ahead to define the food they eat as their identity. These findings have led researchers and anthropologists to conclude that culture is the main determinant of foods eaten.
Contrary to the belief that culture is the main influence on foods, the availability of food and its constant supply in a region are also key factors to take into account. People have often taken food that is indigenous to their region. This is supported by the fact that, in most cultures, the staple food is the one that is grown locally in that area and not the food that is imported from other regions. Corn, for example, is a staple food in most African countries.
Meals made from it, though different, are identified as their cultural foods. There are few areas in the world where people establish with a certain type of food that they have no idea of how it is grown or prepared. In the study on frozen TV Dinners, Jerome states that the type of foods preferred to depend on “…accessibility to a large range of readily available foods” (Jerome 152). This, therefore, means that the accessibility of a meal is more important in determining the diet or food taken than culture is.
The other reason why people show a preference for a certain type of food is convenience. In his study, Jerome also found out, “…the concept of the concept of convenience is salient to use” (152). Irrespective of a person’s culture, the convenience of food to people determine the availability of such foods to them. This means that a person who is busy at work or is hungry and needs easy-to-prepare food is less likely to follow culture in food preparation.
Instead, he/she will opt for foods that are easy to prepare. Jerome clearly demonstrates this in his work when he states, “For many people, the exigencies of daily life demand that meals which make little additional demands on personal time and other resources…” (155). Even though some societies claim that certain foods belong to their culture, most investigations would reveal that the original groups of people preferred them because they fitted their daily lives. It was, therefore, not because of a cultural doctrine.
The other reason why people take foods is due to the perceived good taste or rather their taste preference and or pleasure that they derive from them. In some regions, culture defines some foods as a staple, yet most people in the same culture prefer different foods due to their tastes or pleasure. This is a popular method of determining which foods are eaten. A good example is the indulgence of people in alcoholism, which, despite many cultures defining it as a social ill, there is a clear preference for alcoholic beverages. This has existed in many cultures. It dates back to Roman times and biblical times.
In her literature, Tlusty describes how alcoholism was considered a sin in the Christian culture (73). She, however, demonstrates how prominent Christians would also engage in alcoholism. In fact, “…visitation records reveal that drunkenness among the Catholic clergy was a common concern of Catholic reformers” (Tlusty 74). The main reason why most people engage in alcoholism is the pleasure they derive. There is little that culture, which cannot influence the drinking habits or the taking of sweet foods. However, the taste is relative to individuals. This may explain the difference in the taking of some foods. Gladwell explains that spaghetti is a common food in most western countries, as it is considered sweet (Gladwell 1).
Another reason why people take certain foods is due to the pricing. Some cultures have defined some foods as their staple foods with no consideration of the price attached to making a single plate of the food. Culturally accepted food may be too expensive for most people to afford. It ends up being taken like a luxurious thing rather than the basic desire for food. Some foods, which are very popular in some cultures, are only available in big hotels and restaurants.
These are often highly-priced locking out the people who identify with them. This proves that culture has a little to play in the selection of foods and diet. Its role is, therefore, secondary to people’s economic power. This is effectively highlighted in MacClancy’s book when he claims that some meals in cookbooks are restricted there and only available in upper-class places (66). Culture is, therefore, not important today in determining the types of food taken.
Most people state that the culture of a group determines the types of food they eat, as well as the diet they maintain. As pointed out, there are various factors influencing the eating habits of people. These are of significant importance compared to people’s culture. Food availability is very important in food selection, as the most available food is selected at the expense of cultural foods. The other factors ranking higher than culture are convenience, taste, and the price of the food.
Gladwell, Malcom. What can we Learn from Spaghetti Sauce?, 2012. Web.
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Jerome, Norge. “Frozen (TV) Dinners – The Staple Emergency Meals of a Changing Modern Society.” Food in perspective 1.1(2001): 145-156. Print.
MacClancy, Jeremy. Food, Identity, Identification. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Tlusty, Ann. The Drunken Spirit. New York: Longman Publishers, 2002. Print.