Throughout history, food has been a major part of every culture in the world. However, as groups of people become more and more civilized, emphasis is taken away from the cultivation of food and its use for survival, and instead placed on quality, taste, and the status that certain foods bring. There is a disconnect in the food of developed countries, as psychology affects eating habits and the overall conception of food. With increased exposure to advertisement and social situations involving food, developed countries are experiencing a change in the implications of food, as it becomes more of a socially constructed status symbol and less of a means of sustenance.

In countries with a strong food culture, food symbolizes national history, however, in attempts to maintain a strong food culture, social implications appear and affect growth and change. By being a member of a country with a strong food culture, one can place him or herself into the past, and find a sense of pride in eating what his or her ancestors would have eaten. This also promotes a strong sense of nationalism and unity among citizens. Innovation in food is frowned upon, placing barriers on change in order to maintain the culture. By partaking in tradition upheld by the aristocratic members of society, these people promote the idea that only the wealthy opinions matter and actually become part of the culture. At this point, food becomes a socially constructed status symbol. Culture continues to remain the same in countries like France to mirror what the aristocracy of the past contributed to and partook in.

Branding and advertisement contribute to the use of food as a status symbol in developed countries. Barthes states that by choosing a certain brand and becoming loyal to said brand, “the consumer gives diversity to products that are technically so identical even the manufacturer cannot find any differences.” Internalized prejudices to certain brands highlights the natural desire to gravitate toward products that the wealthy would use, just like those who chose to eat foods that they knew the aristocracy of their country to eat. By letting branding take such a major role in product selection, less emphasis is placed on quality and individual tastes and preferences when it comes to eating. In order to adapt to the modern world, Barthes argues, “the energy furnished by a consciously worked out diet is mythically directed.” By no longer caring about the moral values of food, where it came from, or how it was cultivated, consumers concern themselves more with the value of power that a food has. A chosen food needs to signal the wealth and strength of the one consuming it, fueling industrial agriculture and the integration of foods from higher tropic levels into everyday life.

Lastly, food is beginning to become appropriate for all situations, and these situations are no longer able to be properly expressed without food. In the past, food in a social setting was only used for festive occasions and was associated with celebration. However, food is now a part of everything. This contributes to added stress on consumers, as every situation they could encounter also has to have some type of food to contribute to it. The consumer now has to consider the social implications that a chosen food will bring to a situation, and whether or not his or her selection will be appropriate and accepted by onlookers. Barthes relays that the actual substance of the food, in turn, is transformed into its use in a situation.

In short, too much thought is put into food selection, changing consumption habits as people find the time to put increasing amounts of thought into the foods they eat. Instead of being used as a means of survival, food has become a status symbol among members of developed countries.

 

2 Comments

  1. Alexander Whitacre

    In addition to Griffin’s point, I would also like to add that while food is certainly a status symbol in today’s world, it has also been a symbol in the past. An instance of this can be seen when looking at Pre-Revolution France. Late 18th century France suffered from massive income inequality and huge inflation that created a middle class that spent over 80% of their income on bread. Despite the fact that many in the country could barely afford the staples of any meal, the King not only ate well, but flaunted his ability to afford food.

    The King of France’s typical dinner was at least 4 courses, and led to him having a stomach that, at his death, was multiple times the size of the typical human’s due to its expansion. This lavish nightly dinner was clearly a way the King of France flaunted his wealth, power and status relative to even the other high ranking members of the aristocracy and especially compared to the common Frenchman who could hardly afford any food at all.

  2. I would like to offer some alternative thinking to your middle argument about food as a status symbol in developed countries. I don’t think food as a status symbol exclusively exists in developed countries. When we look to poor developing countries we could still look at what someone is eating and tell where they fall in society. A family in a developing country that may only be able to eat bread or might not have food at all we can definitely tell where their place in society is. I also don’t think advertisement and branding have that big of an effect on what we consider “wealthy” food. While I agree that brand loyalty might influence some peoples choice of food I think most people in modern day would consider a wealthy diet consisting of “all natural” or “farm-fed” foods and not the big brand name foods that you would see being heavily advertised. Often I think the heavily advertised foods are marketing to the poor and middle class of a society. Look at the people who eat fast food, who buy Coke products, and who buy name brand name foods at the grocery store I think the majority would fall into the middle or lower class of our society. The wealthy can afford to eat the healthier, “farm grown”, and “no additive” foods while the lower or middle class must settle on food out of a can. I think food has always had an element of where you fall in society and I think that people don’t so much strive to buy food that is heavily processed and mass manufactured, but rather do it out of a necessity because it’s so much cheaper to eat.

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