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The Egyptian Diet: Sociology of Food and Nutrition Essay

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Updated: Apr 9th, 2022

Introduction

Food is a sole source of human nutrition and sustenance. Globally, the methods people use to obtain and prepare food differ from one culture to another. The methods reflect the local culture’s history, beliefs, and natural resources. A culture’s culinary practices, including the ingredients added in a national cuisine, depend on economic, social, and cultural factors of its people (Mintz & Du Bois 2002, p. 102).

For instance, in the Indian culture, religious and social factors have a big influence on food habits whereas the Egyptian diet draws from a rich heritage spanning thousands of years. In both cultures, the food habits relate to the nutritional requirements of the people, their occupations, and the available resources, among others. This paper compares and contrasts the concept of food and the culinary practices of the Indian and Egyptian cultures and their effect on the health outcomes of the people.

The Indian Culture: An Overview

The Asian country of India has a population of over a billion people living in its 28 states. The Indian population exhibits diverse differences in terms of language and religion, although certain cultural practices are common to all. Religion, language, and food define the Indian culture. The major religion in India is Hinduism, which is practiced by over 80 percent of the people (Fraser 2009, p. 608). The other religions include Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Sikh.

The Indian cuisine covers a range of dishes rich in spices and herbs. The cooking methods differ from one place to another, but most Indians include rice, wheat, and black chickpea (Bengal gram) in their largely vegetarian diet. Spices, such as “coriander, peppers, cinnamon, and turmeric” are key ingredients in any Indian dish (Deaton & Drèze 2010, p. 44). Besides spices, Indians also use condiments (seasonings) obtained from herbs and fruits to add flavour to food.

The Indian cuisine borrows heavily from other cuisines, notably Western and Arabic dishes. Indians also use potato, maize, papaya, cocoa, and cheese, which have foreign origins, to supplement their vegetarian diet. Besides the ingredients, the Indian recipes also have external influences. The ‘idli, which is common in Southern India, the rice preparations of jalebi, biryani and pulao, and the kebab have foreign origins. In recent years, fast food has become popular in cities, such as Calcutta, where it is served with Indian cakes like dosai and vada (Nandy 2004, p. 11).

The Indian Traditional Food Habits

As already stated, most Indians eat a vegetarian diet. Non-vegetarians often include chicken or lamb in their diet. The food is usually consumed with fingers with bread, such as the naan and bhatoora, being the staples. Eating usually depends on the occasion, place, and time when the food is served. The Indian ethnic food differs depending on the region. However, vegetarian Punjabi dishes (native to Punjab province), including “parathas or bread cooked in butter, matar paneer (peas and cheese in tomato sauce), lassi (spiced yorghurt), and bhature (chickpea)” are popular across India (Appadurai 1997, p. 13).

The traditional food habits and cuisines have undergone changes to adapt to the 21st century consumerism culture. Most Indian cuisines are compatible with fast food, which is popular in metropolitan areas. Examples include Indian snacks, such as samosas (turnovers), which derive from Western culinary methods associated with McDonald’s restaurants (Shridhar, Dhillon, Bowen & Kinra 2014, p. 56). Moreover, the traditional types of bread in India, the puris and parathas, are also sold as snacks. Other Indian dishes that have joined the list of fast food include popular South Indian cakes such as “idli, dosai, and vada”, among others (Appadurai 1997, p.15). In Northern India, Punjab dishes, like the chhole-bhature (chickpeas in wheat flour), are also sold as fast food.

The Egyptian Culture: An Overview

Egypt is an Arab country located in the Northern part of Africa near the Mediterranean Sea. Over 90 percent of its 80 million citizens live along the banks of the river Nile (Galal 2002, p. 141). Egypt is largely an arid country with only 3 percent arable land. Archaeological evidence dating several years back indicates that ancient Egyptians consumed a wide array of food. The food types still form a staple diet in modern Egypt. The Egyptian diet includes cereals like beans, peas, wheat, and barley, fruits such as figs and dates. Preparations, such as “spinach-like vegetables (molokhiyya), bread, rice, and fava beans in sauce (ful mudammas)” are staples in the Egyptian diet (Galal 2002, p. 144).

The Egyptian cuisine has had external influences from multiple cultures, especially from the Middle East. Throughout history, travellers from Greece, Rome, Persia, and Turkey interacted with the Egyptians and introduced new food and cuisines. More recently, the Syrian immigrants and tourists from Europe have also influenced culinary practices in Egypt. Despite the influences, the Egyptian cuisine retains unique elements from ancient times, including bread or rice consumed with molokhiyya vegetables, fuldammas (beans), or fasieekh (dried fish) (Hassan-Wassef 2004, p. 899).

The Egyptian Traditional Food Habits

The ancient crops in Egypt are still cultivated today, which has allowed certain food habits to emerge. Traditionally, the food habits derived from the Copts’ traditions, the fellaheen female farmers, and Egyptian Christians (Galal 2002, p. 141). Changes in traditional habits emerged with the introduction of large-scale irrigation schemes. The introduction of irrigation two centuries ago allowed large-scale cultivation of rice, barley, cotton, wheat, and maize. The agricultural policy adopted favoured certain crops over others due to limited arable land in the Nile delta. As such, traditional food crops, such as barley and wheat were replaced with maize and cotton causing dietary deficiency disorders like pellagra and obesity (Galal 2002, p. 145). These changes also disrupted the traditional food habits.

The Egyptian dietary habits adapted well to the changes in the agricultural system by developing methods of preserving food. Methods for preserving fruits, cereals, and legumes are used to ensure an all-year round supply. Preservation methods for fish, meat, vegetables, and condiments are also available. The expertise is still used to preserve legumes, fish, and cereals, which are included national dishes like ful (fava beans), koushari, aish baladi, kebab, and kofta (lamb) (Galal 2002, p. 147). Another dietary habit is the consumption of street food. Food sold by street vendors, including koushari (rice mixed with lentils) and fresh juice (asiir) is a common practice in contemporary Egypt (Hassan-Wassef 2004, p. 904).

Comparisons between the Indian and Egyptian Cultures

The Indian and Egyptian culinary practices reflect the cultural, social, and environmental variables of each culture. Most Indians practice Hinduism and thus, eat a vegetarian diet. In contrast, in Egypt, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim, people feed on sheep, dried fish, and chicken during religious celebrations, such as Eid al-Fitr, marriages, and births (Hassan-Wassef 2004, p. 904).

The diet includes cereals and legume supplemented with dairy products (cheese), meat, and preserved fish. Fruit and vegetable intake depends on availability. People feed on grapes and figs, which can withstand the dry climatic conditions. A dietary assessment of the Egyptian diet reveals that it is rich in calorie content (up to 22% in rural homes), which has been attributed to a high prevalence in obesity among Egyptian women (63.1%) (Galal 2002, p. 147)

By comparison, the Indian diet is rich in spices and herbs, such as coriander, hot peppers, and cinnamon, which thrive under the wet monsoon climate. The diet is also rich in fruits, such as tomato and tamarind (Nandy 2004, p. 15). The Indian diet draws from European, Turkish, and Arabic cultures, which has resulted in diverse vegetarian dishes, including the starchy cuisines, i.e., Punjabi and Munghal. Although the vegetarian diet has many health benefits, the high amount of spices in major Indian dishes pose a health risk. High amounts of capsaicinoids in most Indian spices have been found to cause vomiting, allergies, nausea, and gastrointestinal irritation” (Scholl & Jensen-Jarolim 2004, p. 248)

Intercultural Communication and Nutrition

In Egypt, the traditional food system that revolved around cereals and legumes met the nutritional requirements of the people. Irrigation expanded the arable land and allowed the cultivation of other food crops, such as maize. However, the diversification has not enhanced the nutritional quality of the Egyptian diet. In recent years, pellagra and rickets, which are caused by lack of vitamins B3 and D respectively, have been reported in “40 percent of children in one Egyptian hospital” (Abdel-Hady, El-Gilany & Sarraf 2014, p. 134). Pellagra can be attributed to reduced cultivation of wheat due to high demand for cotton. Moreover, malnutrition in Egypt is among the highest in the world affecting eight percent of children under five years (Abdel-Hady, El-Gilany & Sarraf 2014, p. 134).

On the other hand, the Indian traditional diet is largely diverse and well balanced. The Indian diet, which is rich in “legumes, vegetables, roots, tubers, cereals, fruits, and spices”, has a low in fat and calorie content, but adequate amounts of “calcium, iron, folate, and vitamins A, B1, and C” (Shridhar et al., 2014). Its health benefits include reduced risk of “blood cholesterol, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus” (Fraser 2009, p. 610).

Conclusion

The Egyptian diet has a rich heritage and unparalleled uniqueness. The main staples include cereals, legumes, and animal protein sources, such as fish and lamb. However, the relatively high rates of malnutrition and pellagra indicate that the diet does not have sufficient micronutrients. On the other hand, the Indian vegetarian cuisine is low in fat and rich in antioxidants and vitamins that have significant health benefits.

Reference List

Abdel-Hady, D El-Gilany, A & Sarraf, B 2014, ‘Dietary habits of adolescent students in Mansoura, Egypt’, International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 132-141. Web.

Appadurai, A1997, ‘’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 13–24. Web.

Deaton, A & Drèze J, 2010 ‘’, Economic & Political Weekly, vol.115, no. 7, pp. 42-51. Web.

Fraser, G 2009, ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 89, no. 5, pp. 607–612. Web.

Galal, OM 2002, ‘The nutrition transition in Egypt: obesity, under nutrition and the food consumption context’, Public Health Nutrition, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 141-148. Web.

Hassan-Wassef, H 2004, ‘Food habits of the Egyptian: newly emerging trends’, East Mediterranean Health Journal, vol. 10, no. 6, pp. 898-915. Web.

Mintz, SW & Du Bois, C 2002, ‘The anthropology of food and eating’, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 99-119. Web.

Nandy, A 2004, ‘The Changing Culture of Eating: Preliminary Notes’, South Asia Research, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 9-19. Web.

Scholl, I & Jensen-Jarolim, E 2004, ‘Allergenic potency of spices: hot, medium hot, or very hot’, International Archives Allergy and Immunology, vol. 135, no. 3, pp. 247-61. Web.

Shridhar, G Dhillon, P Bowen, L & Kinra, S 2014, ‘Nutritional profile of Indian vegetarian diets: the Indian Migration Study (IMS)’, Nutrition Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 55-67. Web.

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