In the course of the previous eleven chapters we have threaded our way through a maze of issues, studies and sources all related, directly or obliquely, to the search for a better understanding of the social and cultural dynamics of food and eating. At this point it is time to take stock, in order to attempt to provide some sort of overall appreciation of just what it is that emerges from this broad spread of material, and in order to begin to speculate about the possibilities for the future.
Of course, the core aim of this book, around which all the other aims laid out in the introduction revolve, is to introduce the reader to the main themes in the literature and to provide a reasonably full account of the ways in which these themes have been dealt with by the authors who have sought to address them. Inevitably, however, we have not necessarily been able to do full justice to the detailed arguments contained in our chosen sources, largely because we have been primarily concerned to extract the specifically sociological implications of the material. Furthermore, there are, inevitably, significant gaps in the existing literature, gaps produced by a lack of theoretical formulation, empirical research, or both. Thus, in a sense, the themes upon which this book is based are shaped as much by what is not available as by what is available in terms of knowledge. Drawing out the connections between the themes and the ways in which they are interwoven with each other is clearly important. Yet, the understandable desire to see some explicit, all-embracing framework within which these interconnections can be formalized in an integrated fashion is one which, at this stage in our knowledge, is likely to be only partially fulfilled. The very diversity of the material we have encountered is at the same time the source of its richness and a barrier to the creation of a single, authoritative synthesis.
Nevertheless, a brief recapitulation of the main themes we have encountered can serve to highlight deeper, underlying refrains which have expressed themselves repeatedly in the foregoing pages. The arguments discussed in Part I concerning the origins of human patterns of food production and consumption were, of necessity, somewhat speculative ones, given the difficulties of producing reliable data on the prehistory and early history of our species. In examining the emergence of the modern food system, however, we were on somewhat firmer