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Food and Culture: A Reader


Carole Counihan, Penny Van Esterik, Penny Van Esterik (Editors)   
Food touches everything important to people: it marks social differences and strengthens social bonds. Common to all peoples, yet it can signify very different things from table to table.
Food and Culture takes a global look at the social, symbolic and political-economic role of food. The stellar contributors to this reader this reader examine some of the meanings of food and eating across cultures, with particular attention to how men and women define themselves differently through their foodways. Articles reveal how food habits and beliefs both present a microcosm of any culture and also contribute to our understanding of human behavior. Crossing many disciplinary boundaries, this reader includes the perspectives of anthropology, history, psychology, philosophy, and sociology.

The reader starts out by illustrating food's ability to convey symbolic meaning and communicates about a wide range of subjects. Next, the articles draw attention to how the practices of giving, receiving and refusing food initiate, solidify or rupture social bonds. Essays exploring the relation between body image, eating and sexuality in different societies give particular attention to the special and contradictory relation between women and food. Also demonstrated is the relation between the commodification of food, food industries, political power and colonial dominance.

Rarely does one edited volume do such a good job of covering the essential essays about a topic. Counihan and Van Esterik do just that in their well-wrought Food and Culture. They skillfully offer food in an anthropological and historical perspective, giving attention to feminist, structuralist, semiotic, and other approaches. The essays themselves are effectively trimmed down by the editors, and the resulting book is consistently rewarding.

The book is weak on vegetarianism, meat as meaning, post-structuralism, and fast food, and could use a bit of help on "ethnic" uses of food. The addition of Doris Witt, Eric Schlosser, and Judith Farquhar would be helpful. It also lacks Peter Singer's new classic, "The Singer Solution to World Poverty." A second edition with these modifications would be welcome!

This book can rival, supplant, or supplement most any professor's undergraduate reading packet on the anthropology of food. Truly well-done. Probably a staple meal on campuses for years to come.  Reviewer: quickhappy


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