As has been discussed in class, America does not appear to have a deeply rooted food culture. While some dishes such as hamburgers and hot-dogs are commonly pointed to as examples of national cuisine, variety in what we would describe as “American” appears to be almost nonexistent. In the Hardee’s commercial, an interesting solution to the apparent lack of a true American food culture seems to take form: our food culture does exist, but it comes not from the food itself, but how the food originated.

Practically speaking, does a hamburger/hotdog/potato chip hybridization sound intuitive, or even that appealing? To some it may, but many others it would appear to be a disturbing case of putting to many dishes already fine on their own into a larger sandwich. Despite this, Hardee’s outright celebrates the absurdity of the sandwich itself, as well as enhance the ridiculous nature of the sandwich by placing it within one of the most stereotypical settings imaginable. While the average viewer will laugh at the surreal portrayal of this strange combination, we can’t deny that America as a nation appears to be embracing the idea of it, at the very least sarcastically.

As a historical melting pot, our nation has excelled in combining vastly different components to form an entirely new entity. The hamburger and hot-dog aren’t just described as American because supposedly they were first sold here. They define an American food culture because they represent the idea of America: a melting pot of a variety of components, in this case being meat and bread. The nation’s defining characteristic demands the combination of everything, from nationalities to traditional foods. As Hardee’s seems eager to remind us, if two different dishes can still fit on a sandwich together, it may just be un-American not to do it.

William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation has shifted my thoughts toward this year’s Thanksgiving – specifically with how it’s taking its sweet time to actually be visible on the calendar. Thinking of the stuffing, potatoes, turkey, and pie is something that brings good memories with a tinge of guilt at consuming a week’s worth of food in one sitting. That regret is decreasing along with my metabolism, but the overall feeling of being with family and friends on a cold day in November is always a nice one to recall and look forward to.

Regrettably, I’m usually hazy on the details of the food brought and consumed for the first Thanksgiving feast, and wonder at times if my meal eaten on the last Thursday of that month is really paying sufficient homage to the genesis created by the foreigners and Native Americans in Plymouth. Are my family traditions enough to pay respect to the meaning of that meal? Thanks to Alton Brown (Food Network personality), I was able to get an insight as I watched the clip below (please watch until 8:45):

http://youtu.be/k6CtAJGUtJs?t=313

I understood more as his friend Deborah Duchon poignantly stated the following:

“What is anthropologically correct? Holidays are about family, and my family prefers tradition over authenticity.”

Many things that we do and see in these days differ greatly from their origins. The physical things themselves can be so drastically different from where they started that at times it can be difficult to connect past to present. With that said, in agreement with Ms. Duchon above I believe that preference is what defines our enjoyment of such a holiday as Thanksgiving. Our satisfaction comes from an association built over years, and the food that we eat because of the traditions that we have will be something that brings us back home each year. Those foods and that holiday will connect us with the past as we share the feelings that those founders did of gratitude for family, loved ones, and all the things that with which we’ve been blessed.

Located next to one of the technology capitals of the world, Eatsa is taking a more socio-technic approach to the fast food industry in San Fransisco.  The restaurant has re-imagined the kitchen, removing all staff except for six chefs who cook the food while the rest of the employees are replaced by Ipads, conveyor belts, and sliding panels.  On the Ipad menu is a choice from eight dishes of quinoa variations, “a  grain that’s high in protein but cheaper and more environmentally sustainable than meat”  for 6.95, card only.  After ordering, a personalized cubby slides open, providing you with your food cooked from the chefs who are hidden away.

Is this the direction that all food and service will attempt to head?  For upper scale restaurants where service is a large portion of the price, this doesn’t seem too achievable.  But in fast food restaurants, employees are expendable for the advancing world of technology.  While this may make it cheaper to run on the side of management, this also changes the experience of the user.  There becomes a disconnect through efficiency. With this system there is no longer human-to-human conversation and interaction but a tablet which leads to a computer in an isolated kitchen. Eatsa is the result of a traditional American experience with a culture that has become reliant on the computer.

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=WGPPZWNX

After reading about our national eating disorder, we discussed in class Pollan’s views of American food culture. In his article he expresses that America does not have a food culture of its own to identify with and that lack of identity causes Americans to have anxieties about what to eat. What I enjoyed about this clip is that it portrays a more than realistic example of what Americans go through when choosing what to eat. The couple’s experiences connect directly with some of the points Pollan is trying to make in his article. In the opening of the video the wife asks her husband to name three foods and he quickly names Italian, Mexican, and American. This shows that there is not a strong bond between Americans and the food of their culture. I find myself doing the same thing, naming many other cultures’ food before even considering American food. After the wife does not want any of those foods the husband rattles off multiple fast-food chains. The wife then begins to show signs of her anxiousness by patting her husband’s leg, making quick movements, looking around, and having a distressed appearance. The onset of her anxiety is due to the sheer number of fast-food options readily available. Faced with so many options, she couldn’t possibly have decided what she wanted to eat. She is unable to decide because to weigh out all possible options would take too much time. This video gives just a small insight into the ever growing problem of our nation’s eating disorder.

Although Michael Pollen argues that America lacks a national food culture, Williamsburg colonists along with many others throughout the history of America have created a culture of “taste tradition” that is still being celebrated and enjoyed by many. As explained in this article from the Virginia Gazette, many will gather in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend to taste and experience pieces of our national history at an event called Taste Tradition. Although the American culture is not homogeneous nor clearly defined, since before the first settlers landed in the New World, there has always been a rich and diverse culture of food present. The events being held throughout the weekend pull from different regions and time periods in American history. From the Old South to the American Revolution to the speakeasies of Prohibition, America’s food (and drink) culture has been constantly changing and adapting.

Michael Pollen compares American food culture to that of countries such as France and Italy. Both of which are countries that had well established cultures long before America was a country. I would argue that although America’s food culture is not clearly defined by a single meal or staple food, it is instead defined by it’s rich history of diversity and by the people that have settled within it’s borders. It is difficult to define a single food as being the “most American food” because there is no one type of person who is the epitome of American.

After all, what good is a melting pot if not for food?

Because animals require food to survive, humans have put a lot of significance into what kind of food we eat. Most other creatures only eat because it makes their stomachs stop hurting. In Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, food is revered as a cultural, social, and slightly political boon. “One could say that an entire ‘world’ (social environment) is present in and signified by food.” (Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, page 32). This quote resonated with me due to my own personal experience with food and my discovery of my peers’ experience with food. According to my mother, when I first came home from a play date at the age of four years old, I initiated a serious talk about how something is very wrong with the bread Mary’s mom had. I grew up accustomed to professionally cooked food and ingredients fresh from the farm. Seeing white bread in a package pre-sliced and missing the seeds, my world view shattered. I didn’t know how other kids got their food. I assumed everyone made it at home like my mom.

Fast forward a decade or two and I have come to understand the socio-economic impact on food. I learned that very few people know farmers, let alone have barter-contracts with a dozen farmers. As I understood other environments such as urban life and even the suburban life of my childhood friends, I noticed that we all have a different understanding of what food is and what it’s supposed to look like. As Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption talked about advertising and how people are manipulated into eating wheat and wheat by-products, I remembered being 10 years old and eating a bag of baby carrots while my peers ate Doritos or Cheetos or Pringles or any other name brand snack at snack time. I ate my baby carrots because I enjoyed the flavor and I was allowed to eat them whenever I wanted. My peers ate their snacks because they were excited about the flavor TV had promised them. My peers seemed to bond over their snacks while I was separate from their experience.

Now that I’m twenty years old and no longer ten I have tried buying the fresh foods I was accustomed to growing up. Bags of baby carrots are extremely expensive. I would go through a large bag of baby carrots in a week as a child, now I can’t even afford to include baby carrots in my monthly budget if I want to eat every day of the month. For the price of one large bag of baby carrots I can buy multiple canned soups and boxes upon boxes of Cheez-Its. That food can sustain me for a week while a large bag of baby carrots could be a once a day snack for a child.

Knowing what I know now, I am not resentful of my peers that grew up with name brand snacks that were so exciting for them to bond over. Perhaps their families couldn’t afford to feed their kids like my parents fed me. My food was very different from their food just as my world was very different from theirs. Animals need food to survive and humans have constructed entire ways of alive around that very fact.

I found Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption to be a very interesting read. Roland Barthes makes some very interesting points, but the one that resonated the most with me was the idea of food being used as a communication tool. This idea is the major theme of our class and I think this article captured it very aptly, through the idea that “food is a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior.” Ultimately, we can learn a great amount about a country, city, or even individual through their eating habits because food has always been such a big part of every culture.

The ideas in this reading directly relate to Georges Perec’s inventory of the foods he ate in one year. Without knowing anything about his background and just by reading the list of foods, we could immediately make certain assumptions about Perec. We gained some insight into his income level, as a fair amount of the foods he ate were expensive and gourmet, so it was apparent that he had to be leading a certain kind of lifestyle. Certain groups of foods that were very popular in France, such as bread, were also surprisingly minimal in his list suggesting perhaps a simple dislike or a more deep-seated reason for excluding a food group. Finally, we also got an idea of his personality through the discipline with which he maintained the list and the importance of food in his life. I believe these three points emphasize Barthes’ idea about food as a communication tool, as we can tell so much about a person without ever having met them or knowing any details about them. This fact was even more emphasized once we received more details about Perec and his experiences with war allowing us to further understand his motivation to write such a list and the culture in place at the time he was living.

Food is also used as a communication tool in terms of understanding the history of the world. We can learn so much about older times and generations by reading their accounts of what they ate. We can learn about what technology they had in place based on what types of food they were able to cook, how and what they hunted, and the types of crops they were able to grow. These ideas are important to us in order to piece together the history of civilization, and food can play a big role in this documentation.

With the examples above, we can see that food is a big communication tool for people to communicate with one another in the past, present, and future.

Aashna Choudhary

Through his 1961 article “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption,” Roland Barthes questions the commonly accepted functions of food (consumption for sustenance) and seizes an opportunity to define immaterial systems that can be easily associated with food. Barthes, whose comprehensive biography can be found here, enjoyed commendable success over his lifetime for examining underlying representations of meaning—significations—found throughout popular culture, and his particular assertion that “an entire ‘world’ (social environment) is present in and signified by food” continues to resonate even now, fifty-four years after the article’s initial publication. However, Barthes’ examination begs the question: How and why can food and its myriad connotations serve as a mode of communication?

Well ahead of our generation’s fixation on bright, engaging advertisements showcasing the latest & greatest snack, Barthes assigned historical, anthropological, and health-related themes to food, effectively emphasizing the psychological and physical consequences of food consumption. As we experienced through Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory,” French cuisine essentially defines the identity of both a country and its people without a massive obsession over the dishes’ health benefits or lack thereof. Barthes, in turn, qualifies the actual “spirit” that unites French people under a national menu such that, were a foreign individual to shun French food while dining in Paris, he or she would invoke nationalistic disdain from fellow diners who likely hold the same dish near and dear to their hearts. It evolves into an overarching scenario where a disgruntled diner’s opinion automatically discredits him or her because the complaint is now perceived as an insult to a national identity.

Consequently, the prevalence of processed foods has simultaneously enhanced Barthes’ anthropological & health-oriented discussions by inciting prevalent modern-day discrepancies between what foods are considered healthy. American news outlets delight in outing the availability of fast food as the sole contributor to the country’s obesity rates, often complementing the particular story with footage of obese people or the culprit business itself and suddenly transitioning into a commercial segment advertising workout equipment/methods or “diet” foods. Inadvertently or not, this sequence incites the “feelings of inferiority…attached to certain foods [such] that people therefore abstained from them.” Just over the past four decades, modern society (particularly in America) has become hyper-aware of the health benefits associated with certain combinations of foods and frequently perceives people who exercise full control over those combinations as almighty and, as Barthes would characterize, “healthy.”

In short, the perception of food, not the modes of preparation or consumption, establishes either commonality or discord among people based on the aforementioned themes. Perhaps the film It’s a Wonderful Life captures the best direct communication of food’s conviviality through a brief housewarming party where the proud new homeowners are bestowed with gifts that, when combined, adopt meaning far beyond their sustaining functions: “Bread…that this house may never know hunger. Salt…that life may always have flavor. And wine…that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”

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.

 

In “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption” Roland Barthes argues that, in modern times, food has become an important aspect in defining society. He explains how food has departed from its origin as “the first need” and has evolved into a complex expression of culture and social status. Since food has become abundant in first world nations, distinctions between identical goods through advertisements have emerged. In present day America, it is impossible to go down the aisle of a grocery store without coming across dozens of products endorsed by celebrity chefs.

Barthes expresses his concern with economists and advertisers affecting the cultural food traditions of nations. In America, decisions in regards to what to eat are greatly affected by the media. Presence of “premium goods” as well as “patented cooking” methods separate those who can cook in order to eat from those who cook for sport. Due to the omnipotent presence of media, one is expected to not only know the name of the dish they are preparing but also whose version of the dish they are preparing. Barthes’ claim that “substances, techniques of preparation, habits, all become part of a system of differences in signification” has been taken to an extreme.

Consumers are exposed to spice mixes formulated by superstar chefs, expensive appliances endorsed by celebrities and expensive restaurants whose menus were written by master chefs. All of these aspects hardly physically affect the end product that is being consumed, but merely enhance the experience of the food’s preparation. As Barthes mentions “it is not at the level of its cost that the sense of a food item is elaborated, but at the level of its preparation and use.” It is this universal belief that has allowed celebrity chef endorsed restaurants to spring up across the nation. The fact that thousands of individuals are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a meal designed by someone famous speaks volumes. Most likely the world renowned chef who owns a restaurant has not stepped foot into its kitchen in months. In this situation, consumers are knowingly paying for a product that misrepresents its advertisement.

Barthes observations on contemporary food consumption have only been amplified with time. It has become increasingly obvious that food is no longer simply tied to culture. Food is now tied to social experiences, entertainment and prowess. Modern meals are exchanged with the intention to impress rather than communicate a culture through personal experience.