Unsettling the table

In my previous treatment of the construction of taste, my hope was to bring to light the bases around which, in a social sense, our cultures of food develop. I will summarize, out of courtesy to the occasional reader.
I referred to a recent attempt at archiving a rich history of culinary writing and presented two points. First, the development of food culture has material requirements. For example, only after being able to afford and access coffee in a regular and social sense were European drinkers able to construct a culture around its consumption. Similarly, only after an initial contact with Ethiopian cuisine is one able figure its staple flatbread, injera, into one’s realm of preference.
Secondly, that taste is a cultural process implies the conditioning of food culture by other sociological factors in realms such as social organization, language, income and gender. How we perceive, speak or write about food is dependent upon social texture much in the same way as it is upon individual preference.
Our state of living presupposes a fulfillment of hunger’s demands, made uniformly across humankind. As the quality of being human marks our constituency in a society of human beings, so does the essentiality of our alimentary need form the backbone of the social characters of food.
My last column grasped at the significance of culture and society in the representations of food in language and text. Of course, the door is wide open for analyses rooted in gender, socio-economy, geography, etc. (as well as intersections thereof.)
That said, the utility of such exercises in scholarship may not be immediately clear. The theses presented through analyses of food cultures seek only to uncover the basis upon which they are lived; consider coffee culture as an example. The material prerequisites and social nature of connoisseurship are revealed, not through a normative process, but through the reciprocation of observation.
In constructing an understanding of what shapes patterns of nutrition into entire cultures of food, we are locating our own habits of eating on a landscape on which all food cultures are lived. Comparison then becomes an exercise in relation; evaluations of flavour are forcibly subjective, made against our own conceptions of good. As with language, understood differences in cuisine yield no order of worth. Practices and objects of eating which we would consider bizarre or repulsive exist in their own right as products of different social and material arrangements, and to claim their inferiority transgresses the social nature of cuisine, whatever that may be.

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