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Food is never just something to eat

June 27, 2012

“whatever the occasion food is never just something to eat”
(Carolyn Daniel, cited p.266 Haden (2006))

For the editorial introduction to a special issue of Food, Culture & Society, Roger Haden summed up the article included in that issue by Carolyn Daniel. He writes:

Carolyn Daniel argues that food, as well as the stories we tell to our children that include references to food, are fundamental to identity formation. Because it traverses outside and inside, and is itself a symbolically fluid substance—therefore sometimes attractive, sometimes revolting—“food” helps children negotiate and in some sense challenge the cultural order of things within which they must take their place.” (p.266)

Introducing the issue more generally, Roger Haden also describes some of the social situation in which ‘food’ is situated in countries like ours; after asserting that “the problems we face regarding the diet of children are grave indeed” (p.266), he writes that: “Since the Western world began to industrialize in the early nineteenth century, a previously unimaginable proliferation of food products has been created: from bulk processing and preservation to global cool chain transportation, from crude artificial flavors to the bioengineering of plants and animals, and from raw materials to designer commodities. A highly sophisticated, complex food world fraught with potential dangers may soon confront young Tom [his own baby].” (p.266)

“In general, the problem of obesity and diabetes has by now become a public outrage, as has the detrimental influence on children of industry-backed food-and-drink advertising, and of image culture in general. Underlying areas of concern at least touched on several of the papers include the historical lack of esthetic education in schools but also in cultures as a whole, particularly those without strong, popular culinary and gastronomic traditions, like the UK, the US and Australia. In these countries, the industrialization and commoditization of the food system has had the greatest impact on consumption patterns and popular “taste.” Where traditional foodways practices are weak, other influences on food consumption thrive. Perhaps most importantly overall, the papers all implicitly confirm the need to understand food as an integral part of social and cultural life, something far more than a biological necessity, as intimately a part of human and social communication, and a shaping force of subjectivity and self-image.” (p.266)

 Ref: Haden, Roger (2006) ‘Pandora’s lunchbox’ on esthetic education, children, and food. Food, Culture & Society 9(3) Fall, pp.266-274
NOTE: Carolyn Daniel’s paper is called “Without Food Everything is Less than Nothing: The Food Narrative and National Identity in Possum Magic and The Magic Pudding.”
In fact, this whole issue is particularly informative about food and the social environment in which we experience it. I have rather changed my ideas about the importance of food in literature over the last year. This journal gives some understanding of its importance.
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