Food Is Culture

By Chloe Sykes

In recent decades, the world has shifted toward an industrial, globalized food system with significant cultural implications. Food has become a commodity, giving a few top companies significant control. Cultures lose resilience when they are drowned out by decisions that these top food companies can make for us. We have always relied on locally available staples in order to obtain enough food to survive, which has created vibrant food cultures around the world. We define food cultures by the choices we make. If we all eat the same foods the same way, we are susceptible to the same shortages and diseases. We may lose our cultural identity and unique internal balance, diminishing the resilience of humans as a whole.

Cultural wellbeing can be seen as harmony between cultural expression and cultural ignorance. Cultural balance looks different for each individual depending on their background and values, which is also known as cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is an asset and is encompassed in almost everything we do (Hawkes, 2001, p. 24). From art to family dynamics, to mealtimes, culture dictates rules and norms. A system that fosters a healthy food culture is one that allows for consumer choice and connection to nature. Being reintroduced to the idea of food as a miracle of nature rather than a vacuum-packed commodity could spark a resurgence of food cultures. Close-knit networks between producers and consumers put people back in charge.

The globalized system has been introducing consumers to new and interesting foods from all over the world, connecting cultures that otherwise would have remained separate. With the primary focus often being taste, however, the intrinsic value of the food we eat may start to get lost. Because the globalized food system is relatively young, we are still learning about how to best honor and support local cultures for the entirety of what they are rather than simply the tastes they provide. Local food spaces, farms, and farm to table restaurants can bridge the gap between humans and nature, educate consumers about their food sources, establish relationships with farmers, and communicate the inherent beauty of food cultures. Once we have a conducive space for connection and education, the cultural need to make informed food choices can be met.

We can begin this transition by realizing that sustainable thinking starts at a young age. Incorporating nutrition, food sourcing, cooking, and farming practices into education can transform the health and values of children. We need to take on the responsibility of providing students with the knowledge necessary to make food choices that healthy for them, their community, and the environment (Our Work, 2010). By teaching young audiences about the importance of food, local economies, cultural diversity, and the lives of farmers, communities could be brought closer together, food cultures could be strengthened, and mindsets would shift. My vision is for a new generation of humans to have respectful and deep relationships with food. With the right knowledge about food choices, local food, and cultural wellness, they could put our food systems back in balance. There is enormous potential in where we are headed, and with some mindfulness and intention, we can direct our path toward one of resilience and cultural celebration.

Works Cited

Hawkes, J. (2001). Cultural Displays. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.mch.govt.nz/sites/default/files/cultural_displays_jon_hawkes.pdf

O’Kane, G. (2016). A moveable feast: Contemporary relational food cultures emerging from local food networks. Appetite, 105, 218-231. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.05.010

Our Work. (2010). Retrieved July 06, 2017, from http://edibleschoolyard.org/our-work

Rozin, P. (2005). The Meaning of Food in Our Lives: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Eating and Well-Being. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37, 107-112. doi:10.1016/s1499-4046(06)60209-1

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