Food: The Key Concepts

Food: The Key Concepts

Food: The Key Concepts

Food: The Key Concepts


Food: The Key Concepts presents an exciting, coherent and interdisciplinary introduction to food studies for the beginning reader. Food Studies is an increasingly complex field, drawing on disciplines as diverse as Sociology, Anthropology and Cultural Studies at one end and Economics, Politics and Agricultural Science at the other. In order to clarify the issues, Food: The Key Concepts distills food choices down to three competing considerations: consumer identity; matters of convenience and price; and an awareness of the consequences of what is consumed. The book concludes with an examination of two very different future scenarios for feeding the world's population: the technological fix, which looks to science to provide the solution to our future food needs; and the anthropological fix, which hopes to change our expectations and behaviors. Throughout, the analysis is illustrated with lively case studies. Bulleted chapter summaries, questions and guides to further reading are also provided.


Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826)

What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.

Lucretius (99–55 BCE)

History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to
speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of the King's
bastards, but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly.

Jean Henry Fabre (1825–1915)

Welcome to food studies! Food is the first of the essentials of life, the world's largest industry, our most frequently indulged pleasure, the core of our most intimate social relationships. It's very hard to imagine a positive social experience that does not involve the sharing of food – whether a simple cup of tea with an acquaintance, a lunchtime “bite” with colleagues, or a sumptuous lobster dinner with a lover. On a broader level, civilization itself is impossible without food: with the invention of agriculture some ten thousand years ago came city states and empires, art, music, and organized warfare. Agriculture remade the world, both physically and culturally, transforming landscapes and geography, subsidizing soldiers and poets, politicians and priests (Diamond 1999: 236).

For French epicure Brillat-Savarin, we are what we eat – and for Lucretius, we are what we won't eat. Our tastes are as telling as our distastes. To be a member of the Parakana people of the Amazon rain forest is to relish roasted tapir and to despise monkey meat, while the neighboring Arara feel quite the reverse (Rensberger 1991: A3). Food identifies who we are, where we came from, and what we want to be. “Food reveals our souls,” sociologist Gary Alan Fine writes. “Like Marcel Proust reminiscing about a madeleine or Calvin Trillin astonished at a plate of ribs, we are entangled in our meals” (1996:1). Food is “a highly condensed social fact,” anthropologist Arjun Appadurai observes, “and a marvelously plastic kind of collective representation” (1981: 494).

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