The article I am sharing is not a direct correlation of the idea I am seeking to communicate, it is more of a symbol of the idea. Much like Mary Douglas point out about the Israelites, who’s diet was based on religion, dieting in America today is largely cultural. Why is what we eat so big of a deal in the way we are perceived? Because we really “are what we eat”, at least in the eyes of the public. Food, just like fashion, residence, occupation, and relationship status, is one of the elements by which we are all classified in each others eyes. Simply by googling the word diet, an American citizen is confronted with four hundred and sixty four million pages of links. Assuming that each link has at least a couple of diet suggestions a staggering number of diet plans, tips, trick, miracles, and advice is realized. This indicates to me that dieting in America is perceived as much more than dieting.

Like my article from cosmopolitan magazine, the majority of food articles and diet plans are geared toward women. As much as the Hebrew people millenniums ago valued piety and purity in their culture Americans value the personal image of women. For some women, because of peer pressure and public perception, personal appearance and therefore dieting becomes a religion. Cosmopolitan is just one of many magazines that are either geared toward a female audience altogether or have a section geared toward a female audience putting this message out there. In addition to magazines there are diet adds on television, websites, and radio making dieting one of America’s most talked about subjects.

While not evidenced in this particular article, the union of food and culture is not only forced on women. Men in America are confronted with adds and stereotypes as well. Furthermore, men are pulled in multiple directions. Like women, there are diets out there that encourage healthier, sexier bodies for men. But at the same time men are expected to consume certain types of “manly” foods that are often the opposite of what the diets recommend. These social standards about dieting permeate the American culture for both men and women.

Beyond health, there are many more cultural associations with food in America. Cake at birthdays, cookies at Christmas, and a Thanksgiving turkey, all these things are considered essentials of being an American. So whether it’s the lifestyle aspect of dieting or the holiday celebrations, there’s no denying that food is defining characteristic of American culture that is not just one category of our culture, but is interwoven into nearly every aspect of our society.

After looking at Mary Douglas’ “Deciphering a Meal”, and thinking about our past discussion about a real lack of a food culture in america it is no wonder that the quality of food consumed by America’s less fortunate is of poor quality. In an article posted in the Washington Post, a recent study showed a growing discrepancy in the quality of food being consumed in america.

“America’s wealthiest people are eating better, while its poorest are eating worse, concludes a new study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.”

What has become acceptable to consume to the american public? Mary Douglas looked at how the Hebrews decided what was fit for consumption based on their beliefs. Today, what is acceptable to eat for Americans is simply what is available easiest and fastest. For the wealthy we see that they have better access because they can live closer to locations with better food and they can afford to pay the premium. But what has been seen in the poorest Americans, is that they have seen it become acceptable to eat unhealthy foods(aka fast food and other) all the time because it is cheaper and easier. Unlike the Hebrews Mary Douglas looked at, many poor Americans either don’t have the ability or choose not to decide what is fit for them and their families to consume based on belief or nutrition, but on easy access and price.

In an article(cant remember where from) about the attempts to make school lunches we have seen so many issues with these initiatives for a number of reasons. Interestingly enough, even when schools chose to pay to institute these policies, we see a tremendous amount of waste from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and familiars opting out of the plan. It seems like many Americans have almost abandoned the idea of selecting what is okay to consume based on nutrition, and instead opt for the easier and less healthy option even if given the alternative.

Without a defined food culture it seems many Americans are lost when it comes to deciding what is fit and healthy to eat on a regular basis. And when what is easiest and cheapest to get for many Americans is, for lack of a better term, horrible, this trend will continue to rise. While much of this countries health problems come from the poor diet of its people, this trend of poor diet among the poor is alarming. It almost seems like the food culture of america is to not decide what is fit to consume, but consume what is easiest and cheapest.

A little while ago, I was shared this video, which is a clip of Ryan Gosling from The Notebook, desperately asking Rachel McAdams, “What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” I suggest you watch it because it’s only 12 seconds long and incredibly funny. However, if you do not choose to watch it what’s funny is that someone quoted above the video, “Every time I ask my girlfriend what she wants to eat.” It got me to thinking, “How might this apply to America’s food culture that we have discussed in class?” It seems like common knowledge that any time a boy asks a girl where they want to eat, the girl usually can’t decide, or takes a long time to talk with whomever she may be going with in order to come up with a decision. Why is it “common knowledge” that women can’t decide on where they want to eat with a man? Why have there been so many like-minded comments on this meme by other men that swear their girlfriend is just the same?

To try and counter this generalized and somewhat sexist opinion, I would like to say that I think my boyfriend has just as hard a time choosing where or what he wants to eat as I do. However, when I put a little more thought into it, his reasons for having a hard time to choose where to eat is different than my somehow inbred indecision on the matter. For him, I think it’s that he would be perfectly happy eating somewhere that is cheap, greasy and (of his opinion) delicious, like Steak and Shake or Sonic. He probably knows that I would prefer not to spend Friday night at a dinner table in McDonalds, so he instead asks me where I would like to go because when I’m happy, he is happy!

However, whenever he asks me where I want to go, the root of my indecision is not just simply that I would be happy going somewhere that I don’t think he would like, but rather, I simply can’t decide where I would like to go. I think that I often wonder things like, “Will we have to wait a long time for a table because it’s busy?” or “Is that too expensive?” or “Will I feel bloated after eating it?” or, a little more obviously, “Will I find the food they offer on their menu appetizing and tasty?”

This got me thinking about Mary Rowlandson and how she always thought that Indian food was disgusting and she would never eat it, but when she was so hungry she had to eat it, it was like the most savory food she had ever eaten. I asked myself, if I was starving would it be an easier task to pick where I wanted to eat? I almost want to say no because when I get to the point where I am so hungry I can hardly think or move quickly (it happens), it’s even HARDER for me to decide where I want to go. One time, I drove around for at least 45 minutes, passing restaurant after restaurant, while my boyfriend looked hungrily at each one. I simply COULDN’T decide.

So I went to searching the internet as to why women can’t decide on what or where to eat, just to see if there were any articles or blog posts on this topic, I didn’t find much (thankfully). What I did find was this humorous article whose author vents about people that can’t decide on what to eat after taking ample time to look at a restaurant’s menu. He says, “People who take ages trying to choose what to eat in restaurants don’t like food. Not enough, anyway. They can’t choose because they are suspicious of what the kitchen might be attempting to do to them.” I thought this was a really valid point, that some people (maybe more often than not, women) do not really like food, meaning they are picky eaters, and must have their food a certain, specific way or else they will not eat it. Maybe women are just more picky eaters than men?

One other thing that I pulled out of that article was that some people may not trust what the kitchen at a restaurant will serve them. We have read or at least heard of many stories of poor food quality at restaurants (that may or may not be true), like that Taco Bell serves cat-food-grade meat. Or, maybe we won’t go to a certain Chinese restaurant because we have heard they put MSG in their food. Whether it’s because of the restaurant’s culture, or because of the restaurant’s economic worth in their food stuffs, people tend to be very distrustful of food that come from a kitchen other than their own. But the question is whether these rumors and articles are really there to help the public, or simply scare (or confuse) us more than anything, as our reading on “Why Doesn’t Everyone in China Have a Headache?” elicits.

I think the biggest contributing factor as to why women (and men, in my opinion) have such a hard time deciding what to eat stems from the fact that America doesn’t have a developed, ingrained food culture, as we have discussed in class. Together we are a nation of numerous cultures, and those cultures brought with them the incredibly large numbers and types of food restaurants we have to choose from. From back woods Southern cooking to Tapas to Sushi, I think that America’s biggest cities, like New York and even Atlanta, have some of the greatest choices for food restaurants the world has to offer. However, I am afraid these cities just make it harder for men to take their girlfriends out to dinner.

I don’t actually think that women can’t decide on where to eat any more than men can’t, but I have to admit, there does seem to be something about the process by which women pick out what food we want to eat, or where we want to go with our date, that makes men cringe. Does anyone else have any theories?

As a response to Mary Douglas’ “Deciphering a Meal,” I found this Huffington Post article by Hope Gillette, where she explains the role Hispanic culture and traditions will play on American food culture.

Hispanics are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country. As such, their culture is becoming a dominant force in American culture, specifically food culture. According to an NPD study, a large portion of the younger generation (under 37) is Hispanic, and over half of the American population is in this age group. NPD also states that the next five years will bring a stronger connection to food with this generation, meaning the “… ‘food beliefs’ are what will be passed down to the next wave of young Americans” (Gillette). Since this generation has a strong Hispanic population, Hispanic food traditions will be an integral part of that “food belief.”

Mary Douglas argues that cultures and traditions are reflective in the foods we eat, and she explain through the example of Jewish eating laws. For example, the Jewish religion is ceremonial and extremely traditional in its rules and standards, and these rules are portrayed in the Jewish eating laws. One such law is the separation of blood from meat before cooking. From tradition, blood of an animal is saved for God through a sacrificial ceremony. So, Jewish religious tradition is evident in food tradition.

With this being the case, American food culture is defined by our societal and political culture. The United States has long been a melting pot of other traditions as immigrants from across the world travel here to become U.S. citizens. With these immigrants come their “food beliefs.” Therefore, Hispanic food traditions are making their course in American food culture, just as it is socially and politically. With America being a melting pot of diverse customs, naturally, it will be a melting pot of food cultures as well.

Reading a book written in a previous century tells a lot about what was important to the culture of the setting. Eliza Smith took the time to put her thirty years of cooking experience into a rather “complete” book of meals and medicines that people of various classes in England can use. She is thorough in her quest to put forth all that she thinks a housewife should know in order to feed or nurse her family in acceptable ways and I have to ask the question: at which time in history did cooking a meal go from being necessary to necessarily acceptable?

Two readings from before really highlight the acceptable aspect that I want to get at. The first is the Mary Rowlandson reading. Mary describes being adverse to eating foods in the way her captors ate because it was not what she was used to and the reverse could be said of when she cooked and tried to serve it to the Indians. The other reading discusses the more recent importance of the Obento lunch-box in Japanese food culture. There are(/were) standards for a mother to follow when packing a lunch for her child and not following those standards can(/could) lead to harsh judgement on both mother and child.

In the preface of Eliza’s cookbook, she talks about how humans go from having a vegetable diet to incorporating meat and needing seasonings to please the palate. I’d be more interested to know of any research that might further outline changes in the need to have food look good and taste better, or learn more about what is acceptable in other cultures.

Within the excerpt of A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, it describes the different classes of people and their traditions and eating habits. It seems as though he is classifying the different levels of how people eat one being the master, second the servant, and last the slave. By creating these categories he tends to look at the servants and slaves, rather than the masters, with much more interest on their traditions and appearances. This interest is shown during his visit at a plantation as he shows more observations about how the servants and slaves look and act around the owner. He seems to hold the slaves in higher regard than another person of higher status since the owner is not mentioned in depth about his looks or acts. Even with these three classifications, he also has another peak interest with animals as he is sailing from place to place.

In my own observations when reading this excerpt, it seems that the author tends to hold animals in high regard by quality and their survival in their natural habitat. How the animals obtain food in a very particular way is the most descriptive part of the process. The way he describes how the animals hunt for food is by praising or admiring them through their pinpointed skill of their way of life. He talks about dolphins, sharks, sea hawks, fish, and sea turtles in different aspects of the wild. The dolphins, fish, and sea turtles are mentioned to be the animals relating more towards food. Sea hawks and sharks are mentioned in a extremely admirable way due to their strength and skill, that is explained to make it appear as though it took multiple years of training and perfecting rather than a simple explanation of being animal instinct.

When he starts talking about animals at sea versus the humans in the ocean, it seems as though humans do not satisfy his curiosity on how objectives get done. When the plantation workers are being described it sounds as though he is curious about their own way of life. Taking this into consideration, the author seems to be more fascinated with things that he cannot comprehend or even imagine to have to do or live with. Are the animals, servants and slaves ways of life what he is really curious about or is it something different that causes him to see these things in high regards? Does his perception of the animals compare with his observations of the slaves and servants in any way? Or are they two separate subjects that he focuses on the most?

In Mary Douglas’ essay Deciphering a Meal, she explains how the Hebrews determined what animals are sacred, fit for consumption, or abominable. There are three rules about meat that the Hebrews must follow, the rejection of some animal kinds because they are unfit for the table, the separation of meat from the blood before cooking, and the separation of milk and meat. In regards to the first rule, Douglas categorizes each group of animals (land, water, and air) based on certain traits, such as having four legs or having scales and a fin, to determine if they are fit for the table, alter, or simply inedible and not to be touched.

The most interesting part of this article is looking into other cultures to understand their rules on what can and can’t be consumed. In Brazil ants are regularly consumed even at some high end restaurants, yet here in the U.S. you won’t see a soul eat a bug outside of certain reality T.V. shows. So why don’t we eat ants? Clearly they won’t kill us as the Brazilians have shown us. Our culture certainly views them as gross. Perhaps we consider ants disgusting due to their nature.  They are constantly attracted to things that we wouldn’t want to touch (they can be found in the garbage) and are also found in places where we wouldn’t want to be. Our distaste for ants could also be attributed to socioeconomic reasons. Ants are not an expensive cuisine, you can simply walk out into your yard and find some ants to eat.  In this way, scrounging for ants is seen as a low class cuisine. One final reason could simply be that they are never wanted. They can destroy your lawn or eat through the wood in your house. If they get inside your house you just want them out immediately (that could serve as a nice snack).

Our culture does have some rules on what is good to eat just like the Hebrews Douglas described.  Our rules are not formed through a systematic approach like the Hebrews’ rules are as we don’t have them written down or clearly defined. They just come into existence over time based on our culture.


In “Deciphering a Meal,” by Mary Douglas, the author shows the ordered system of religion and food.  She highlights the Jewish as having three main rules.

The first is “To reject certain animals.”  Predators are listed as one to reject because if man were to eat a predator it would be seen as accepting of the actions of the animal swooping in and attacking with its claws.  The man would be synonymous with human predation and homicide.

The second rule deals with draining the blood from the meat you eat.  She writes, “Blood is for God” and “life is in blood.”  So the two cannot mix when being consumed.  I thought of the blood and life comparison as with the more blood you lose from your body the closer to death you become.

The third rule is food must be separated from milk. This is to honor the unity of mother and child.  Milk represents procreation or a mother feeding her child.

What I took away from these rules is that Jewish people hold the animals they consume to their same beliefs.  Along the lines of “you are what you eat.”  I also immediately thought of the Plagues of Egypt and the parallels between the two.  For example, in the ten Plagues that lead to Passover, the Jews of Egypt put lambs blood on the door of their homes to be passed over by God.  Blood again, is for God and symbolizes life.  So to me it is as if the Jewish People are saying there is life of your followers in this home and for God to spare their family.  Also in the plagues, the first-born was to be sacrificed.  This represents that the firstborn is for God, yet the blood, “life,” on the door saved the Jewish people.  However, for animals the firstborn was to be sacrificed because the Plague was during a dark time so they were seen to be polluted by toxins from the locusts or unclean.  And unclean food cannot be consumed.

The main fallacies I see in the rules listed above deal with the predator and blood notion.  From the reading, I understood whether being a predator or not only mattered for birds.  I have a hard time understanding why fish or 4-legged animals do not have to adhere to this same rule.  Maybe these types of fish or 4-legged animals were just not observed by their civilization that mainly dealt with domesticated animals like cows that do not eat meat?   One line from the paper that confused me about the blood viewpoint was “It is impossible to renew Israel without emission of blood and sexual fluids.”  I interpreted the emission of blood as the sacrifice of man for the future of Israel whether through war or pain-staking hard work.  This seems kind of Ironic to me because it is like saying one must lose some or all blood or life in order for there to be life in the future.

As a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, I myself am supposed to adhere to several dietary restrictions.  During the week, Orthodox Christians are not allowed to eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays throughout the year.  This fast represents the day Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Wednesday and the day Jesus died, Friday.  If an Orthodox Christian does not practice these rules they are deemed unfit to receive communion, the body and blood of Christ, at church on Sunday.  I think these rules and the rules of in “Deciphering a Meal” prove a great deal of obedience to God.  I think by following these rules we become closer to God and improve our self-worth.

In Mary Douglas’ “Deciphering a Meal” she attempts to rationalize and substantiate the rules that dictate what meats are acceptable within the confines of the Jewish religion.  The three criteria that Douglas enumerates are: 1) that some animals are unfit for eating (water creatures must have scales and fins, air creatures must not swarm or have more than two legs, and land creatures must have four legs, parted hoofs and chew the cud), 2) the meat must be separated from the blood before cooking (since the blood belongs to God) and 3) that milk must be totally separated from the meat (which honors the procreative function and the Hebrew mother’s unity with her offspring).  The animals that were anomalies and did not fit any description particularly were categorically banned from consumption.

I believe Douglas provides a great amount of support for the reasoning behind the criteria that regulate traditionally religious Jewish meals.  One passage, however, struck me as very out of place and brought up questions that I didn’t find the answers to in the paper:

“It is all very well to worship the holiness of God in the perfection of his creation.  But the Israelites must be nourished and must reproduce.  It is impossible for a pastoral people to eat their flocks and herds without damaging the bodily completeness they respect.  It is impossible to renew Israel without emission of blood and sexual fluids.” (Paragraph 1, Page 51)

It seems extremely counterintuitive to me that God has “perfection of his creation” if nearly every creature, save a few, is banned from the table and of those fit for consumption even fewer are worthy of being sacrificed.  It seems to me that only those creatures that are fit for sacrifice are the ones who could be considered “perfect” since these are the ones of the highest holiness.  This passage could also imply that God is only responsible for the perfect (i.e. fit for the altar) creatures of this Earth.  The logical progression of this argument would be that some other entity is responsible for the existence of the non-worthy animals which, for my purposes, I will assume to be a Satan figure.  This makes more logical sense to me since now we have three categories of animals and God can retain the original claim of “perfection of his creation”.  We can assume that God created two types of animals: those fit for sacrifice (i.e. the ones so the people could show their devotion to him) and those fit for table consumption (since humans are theoretically created in his image and need the nutrition to survive) which leaves the rest of the animals, which are unfit for consumption, to be created by an evil figure.

However, this argument then runs into another roadblock from Douglas.  She claims that pastoral people cannot eat their flocks without “damaging the bodily completeness they respect”.  This statement – to me – implies that it is in some way inappropriate to consume meat.  It seems to me that killing an animal is in some way an affront to God.  The only reasoning behind the killing of animals being allowed that I could decipher was that the animals would be drained of blood before they were prepared to give back the “life” of the animal to God and transform its body into merely meat.

One of the most confusing parts of this passage for me was the end where Douglas says, “it is impossible to renew Israel without emission of blood and sexual fluids”.  It is incredibly vague what blood means in this context.  Is it blood because God is going to purge the evil from Israel to renew it?  Is it blood because the Israelites will need to fight to retain or reclaim Israel?  Is it blood because the Israelites must sacrifice and drain animals in order to appease God? Or is it purely a metaphor for the struggle to keep religious vigor alive in the world?  Perhaps it’s something completely different.  The sexual fluids part also appeared to me to be a loaded statement.  Douglas says that “it is impossible…without” which gives a very negative connotation to the “sexual fluids”.  This is strange to me because the entirety of the basis for one of the three rules is that of the sanctity of the relationship between a mother and her child.  If this relationship is so sacred and can only occur through this medium of “sexual fluid” then why is it criminalized?

Throughout the selected portion of A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, the descriptions of animals, people, and food were elaborate. However, finding a deeper symbolism was difficult. To some degree, the writer seems to make two different analogies on his journey: that between food and sex, and that between nature (animals) and art & culture, the latter association likely due to the writers history in painting as a younger man.

At one point, he is describing his encounter with two Portuguese twins. He describes in detail how beautiful they are, and at one point explains that they are equally so beautiful that he wouldn’t be able to choose between the two, and so he leaves. He draws an an analogy to a question he had heard before about a horse who has a choice between two different bails of hay which he desires equally, and whether he might starve due to his inability to justify his reason to choose one over the other. Is he relating hunger for food to his lust for these girls?

Could there also be an association between Nature and Art? He describes the carpil fish, a flying fish, in great detail, oddly enough in comparison to a sailor at sea. He describes how the fish has the ability to travel by sea, but also by wind as well, which he says shows “how far nature can exceed art.” To some extent it is difficult to tell exactly what “Art” he speaks of throughout the text. In some cases, such as when he is describing the twins, he is speaking specifically of the art of a painter or an artist. However, in this case it seems that he might be creating an association between art and culture. He is describing how the fish (nature) exceeds the abilities of a ship (Art, Cultural Object?).  Could they also be one in the same? Culture and invention as the result of the creativity of man, and art also as a result of the same?