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Food and identity
October 27, 2010, 10:11 am
Filed under: Bread, Food, Good to know, Theories | Tags: , ,

Cover image of the book ‘CrEATe – Eating, Design and Future Food’

You are what you eat – how true is this saying? From my experience of working at the cashier of a supermarket, I have to admit that I cannot withstand making up profiles of the customers, imagining their different ways of living while scanning their groceries. Like all products we buy, consume, and wear, food especially is an expression of how we live and who we are. Of all products, food is the one that gets closest to your body. By eating food, it actually becomes part of our system. It affects our health, our well-being, and the way we look and act. It affects emotions and can arouse memories. In her book ‘Eat love’, eating designer Marije Vogelzang describes eight different dimensions of food, that she provides as an inspiring starting point for people working with food:

– the senses – nature – culture – society – technique – psychology – science – action

Looking back in food history, certain foods obtained specific roles in a nutritional class hierachy and cultural data base, so that eating certain foods distinguished one group from another. To cultivate food and shape it into man-made products such as bread and wine was looked at as an indication of civilitas – Roman and Greek writers such as Procopius wondered e.g. about Lapps, who only lived off hunted animals, without cultivating any food from the earth. Pride of the nutritional and cultural identity, and maybe also the lack of understanding for other food cultures characterized all groups.

Rather than having a  ‘plant of cultivation’ such as corn in America, rice in Asia, and wheat in the Greek and Latin worlds, Celts and Germanics were characterized with an animal, namely the pig. Similarily, Germanic mythology often used pigs as a symbol of the origin of life, whereas Greek and Latin writers valued above all all the fruits of the earth, an earth that would give food as a result of human labour. ‘It is from [bread] that the whole world begins’, did Pythargoras write. It was bread that, together with wine, allowed the savage man to become civilized, as can be read in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest testimonies of Mediterrean culture. What is the definition of civilization, what is the true meaning of culture?

Source: The culture of food//Massimo Montanari; Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford 1996

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