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Food can signal difference …

March 6, 2012

Tam and Frost point to “the function of food as an index of alterity, and a potential basis for common understanding.” (128) They write: “The value of food as a vehicle for comparison, empathy and expression is commonly recognized across a variety of writing genres. A description of the cooking and eating habits of people in far-flung regions is an economical and frequently picturesque way of signaling difference, at the same time establishing an understanding between author and reader of what constitutes “familiar” and “strange.””[1]

They go on to ask: “Why is food such a prevalent topic in “travel writing” in its broadest sense? As several contributors point out, some very exceptional cases aside, travelers have no choice but to engage: they have to eat and drink whatever is available when away from home. … Eating is an inevitably participatory experience, requiring more than simple observation, which makes it difficult for a stranger to retain a sense of aloofness. Whether the reaction is delight or disgust, it is rarely indifference. Academic analysis ignores this visceral reality at its peril: “Food is something we think about, talk about, conceptualise. But we more than abstract it and desire it—we really must consume it to stay alive” (Mintz 1996: 5).” (128)

[1] 128 Daisy Tam and Nicola Frost (2008) Introduction: Food Journeys – Culinary Travels in Time and Space’ Food, Culture & Society 11(2)June: 127-132


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