Food is Cultural
Updated: Aug 8
In one day I attended two different classes only to discuss McDonald's in both. In the business class the discussion was based on the marketing and franchising of McDonald's. In the anthropology class the discussion was about how McDonald's changes their appearance and menu items depending on the country and culture.
We read an article about McDonald's in Japan and a few lines from the article have been circling in my mind since I read them. The article was by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney and was written in the mid 1990's. Ohnuki-Tierney said, "One of the most important aspects of food is its role, both in ritual and in daily life in bringing people together, in giving them a sense of community. By sharing food, and especially by eating the same kinds of food together, people form the bonds of social relationship." The article continues by explaining how the Japanese value rice and even pizza as food that can be shared and considered as a meal, and since McDonald's it is only a snack and cannot be shared, it is not a meal and does not have the same symbolic importance. Which concludes that food overall is cultural, is shared, has symbolic meaning and is important for social relationships.
"One of the most important aspects of food is its role...."
What is the role of food? We as people eat for survival. We need to eat to live. However food can also harm and be life threatening to people with food allergies.
"....both in ritual and in daily life in bringing people together,"
In ritual and in daily life? Most Americans eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks around the same times everyday. As a person with food allergies I have to carefully plan each meal. In bringing people together? Many people eat at mealtimes together, but this can be dangerous for those with food allergies. If people are sharing dishes of food this can cause cross contract which can lead to allergic reactions. If individuals bring their own separate meals this can be life threatening for those who are airborne sensitive.
"....in giving them a sense of community."
A sense of community? Those with food allergies usually feel kind of left out during events with food as sometimes they cannot eat what is provided and have to bring their own food. This feeling does not build community, it singles the person with the food allergies out. If they cannot eat the food they either have an empty plate or different food that they brought themselves. Or they feel like they have to take a chance and eat the food even if it may not be safe to, so then they do not feel singled out or left out.
"....By sharing food,"
By sharing food? It is recommended that those with food allergies do not share food or drinks with others. I will not ever share the same straw with even my sister because of a chance cross contact leading to an allergic reaction. If someone offers homemade food, especially baked goods I will not eat it because the risk is so high. However if I myself make the food, I will make safe food and then share it with others.
"....and especially by eating the same kinds of food together,"
Eating the same kinds of food together? This is not fun when you are invited to for example an Indian party and everyone eats the Indian food except for you. I have found at social events when the emphasis is on the food it is difficult to get others to talk about anything else. As much as it may be interesting to hear everyone's opinions on the food, it is not the same when you can only watch them eat it.
"....people form the bonds of social relationship."
Form the bonds of social relationship? This is a difficult one for me. Probably the line that bothers me the most. If I cannot take part in food that brings people together, gives them a sense of community, sharing the food and eating the same kinds of food together then how am I supposed to form the bonds of social relationship?
Food has always been a reoccurring issue in my social life. Through experience and time I have learned how to not let the food define the social events. I have also realized what kinds of people are real friends and are truly understanding of my food allergies. To understand my perspective on my allergies a person has to be willing to acknowledge that as much as food allergies are important, they are not everything to me. I can still do anything anyone else can and if I do not get to eat for a few hours I will survive. It is not about the food to me, instead it is about how people treat me as an allergic person. Those who know I am more than my allergies and when I cannot meet the cultural standards of mealtimes I am not seen as different. I am viewed as me and not just someone with food allergies.
When I say "no thank you" to food items offered to me, it is for my own safety, not to insult the person who made it. When I bring my own food to an event, I am thankful that the person paid for my seat, I am not being rude by not eating what is provided. When I do not eat anything it is not because I am trying to lose weight or that I have an eating disorder, there is just nothing safe for me and I did not bring anything. When the restaurant manager comes out, interrupts the table and makes a scene, they have a lack of understanding of how they should handle my situation, but even so, it is better that I am safe. When I am turned away from a place to eat, I am grateful for when the people are willing to change the location for the meal. When I go to a person's house and have to eat their food, I only eat a small amount because I am afraid of having an allergic reaction, not because I do not like the food.
Food is cultural. I do not apologize that my food allergies do not fit into a typical cultural thought process of food. Perhaps us with food allergies have our own different culture of food. Just because we are different does not mean we should be left out from the opportunity to form the bonds of social relationships.