Food is an essential part of everyday life. People eat food in the morning, afternoon and evening, in luxurious restaurants and fast-food cafes, at home alone or during a visit to friends and relatives. The consumption of food has become an ordinary ritual performed as routine. Nevertheless, food is more than a process of receiving proteins, fats, carbohydrates and other minerals which are required for human organism to fulfill everyday activities. Today, food is viewed as the reflection of the cultural identity, old traditions, religious influence and beliefs. All these aspects shape the culture of food which introduces the culture of a particular nation. The identification of food as a certain class marker started in Europe in 17-18 centuries. At that time, one social class could be differentiated from another by the way they consumed and served food.
The social elite paid special attention to this issue because in this way they demonstrated their supremacy over other classes. However, during this epoch, food was only a social marker that was obeyed primarily by those people who wanted to underline his/her belonging to a particular class. Ordinary people do not take into account the specifics of right food serving or norms accepted during the dinner. The image of a modern food culture was shaped in 19-20 centuries. The United States represents a great example of food traditions because it was a newborn nation that united habits and traditions of many European cultures. Hence, one could find there the reflection of Italian, German, French, Spanish and other cuisines. One could outline several main aspects that had the greatest impact on the food culture in the previous century; among them are religion, gender and social class differences.
The image of the food culture was shaped by means of these aspects which was driven up from the previous epochs and developed into the modern reflection of the old traditions and stereotypes.
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Religious Influence on Food Consumption
The United States is full of many religious communities and representatives of all kinds of religious views, being able to obey all their food and cultural traditions. Religion of any culture reflects the recommendations and rules concerning every aspect of human life as well as the consumption of food. In fact, religion has been viewed as the main source of information that people use to solve various routine issues. The food consumption was also described in detail in all religions of the world because the food people eat influences their state of health and wellbeing.
Every religion has a specific list of food which is allowed to be eaten by those who follow this religion and also indicates products and dishes that cannot be eaten at all
(Diner 67). In addition, there are also special periods of time which are known as fasting, when people restrict their consumption of food by excluding certain products from their daily nutrition.
Taking this fact into consideration, it can be said that the food cultures of Christians and Muslims have a number of differences in terms of daily nutrition. The reason for this is not the geographical location and the absence or presence of certain products, but the religious beliefs (Diner 73). Hence, even those Muslims who live on the territory of the United States do not eat pork because it contradicts their religious food culture.
Religion has become one of the first differentiators of food consumption among different cultures. In fact, the history of food culture starts exactly with religion and those beliefs that religion has implemented in the society of a particular culture. The followers of different religions eat certain kinds of food which are allowed by their religion. They do not eat food which is forbidden by religion and exclude certain food during fasting. Hence, religion has become the first and foremost aspect, which shapes the vision of the modern food culture.
Food Class Consumption
During the entire history of mankind, there has always been the division into social classes. The number of classes may vary depending on a culture, but in general, there can be outlined three main social classes which are lower class, middle class and upper class. During 19-20 centuries, the difference between these classes became more visible. The revolution of the working classes in Europe and the socialistic way of governing tried to change the vision of the class division (Montanari 154). Even the democratic societies made the attempts to reassure the population by the fact that all people are equal; hence, there could be no social classes or division of people into those who live and earn better and those who have to live in worse conditions. Nevertheless, the division into classes could still be noticed if one takes into account the food people eat. The types of food consumed by people have always been the significant marker which differentiated social classes and outlined those who had better conditions of life and those who scraped for living.
The most diverse class among all other classes is considered to be the middle class. After the industrial revolution, this class started growing and shaped the food habits. The representatives of the middle class are able to consume healthy food because their salaries are higher than the ones of the lower class (Montanari 167). Hence, they may buy products which are too expensive for the representatives of a lower class.
The representatives of the lower class prefer consuming unhealthy food because it is cheaper, but still gives a sense of fullness. Their nutrition may include junk food and food containing too many fats. The appearing of fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and others is the respond to the demands of the society (Yan 80). Fast food restaurants are able to provide a set-meal for 4-5 dollars, while the healthy dinner might cost about 15 dollars or even more. As one can see, the impossibility of a lower class to consume healthy food led to the emergence of fast food restaurants that provided an opportunity to buy less healthy food at a lower price.
The nutrition of the upper class differs from the one of the middle and lower classes. As a rule, they eat only fresh food of the highest quality. This habit dates back to time immemorial, when the representatives of the upper class could consume the best food which was served at that time. The quality of their food was higher even than the food of the middle class. However, the price for such food was also higher, but they could afford such luxury.
Gender aspect of food is relatively connected with the religious beliefs that exist in the society. The holder of the family hearth has always belonged to a woman. Cooking of food as an essential part of house work was mainly done by women. The role of a woman in the previous century and earlier was predetermined by strict dogmatic canons. A woman has to do the house work, raise children and cook food. Thus, all house work and cooking was the obligation of the female part of the society. As a rule, males did not participate much in the process of cooking food because it was considered anon-masculine type of work. Instead, men were supposed to be miners of food. These stereotypes were common in 19th and 20th centuries.
Another aspect of the food and gender issue is preferences that differ not only according to personal desires and features of character, but also according to gender. For instance, the main meal for males is meat; without some kind of meat, an average man cannot feel replete while the majority of women can easily dispense without it. The second point is that women like different salads, including exotic ones where sweet foodstuff is mixed with the salty products. In contrast, men do not like salads, especially exotic ones. Besides, female part of society likes eating various soups unlike men who do not enjoy such meals. Finally, men prefer fried meals, such as fried meat and potatoes. Regarding women, they can eat different types of food. Such preferences in food may be explained by the fact that men as miners and strong part of a family need to eat more nutritious meals so that they still had enough energy and strength to defend their families and mine food for them. However, in addition, males like different spices and flavors; in other words, they prefer bright taste.
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The above-discussed aspects demonstrate the way the food culture developed in the society. As it was mentioned above, religions played the crucial role because they dictated the way people had to consume food. The religious canons controlled the type of food people ate and the time when they ought not to eat certain products. According to this fact, religion has formed the general shape of food culture which differentiated various cultures being different in nature. For instance, there were specific dishes for Jewish, Muslims or Christians. Hence, religion was the first stage of food culture in the society.
The next level of food hierarchy is class division. The division on social classes predetermined the consumption of food; people from different classes used to eat different food. First of all it depends on their financial wellbeing. For instance, the representatives of the lower class could hardly buy the food that was available for the upper class society. This difference became the reason of the food diversity. Some type of food was bought only by the lower class, while some other was preferred by the middle or the upper class. The necessity to satisfy each class with food led to the appearance of new food providers. The brightest example of class food differentiation is the rise of fast food restaurants in the twentieth century. Such restaurants as McDonald’s, KFC and others provide cheap and affordable food for people. Despite the fact that such food is far from being healthy, it has been met with enthusiasm by people and has achieved popularity in the shortest period of time.
Finally, the most ancient aspect of food culture is gender. Food has always been viewed as a type of work performed by a woman. Hence, women from all cultures have closer relation with food culture than men. Since the ancient times, men have been earning food and women have had to cook it. This old tradition has survived till present days, but it was shaped as a social norm in the 19th century, when the goal of the women has become the obeying of the fireside comfort.
Hence, these are three aspects that have formed the general views on the present food culture that exists in today’s America and many other countries. Despite the fact that all cultures are different, the aspects introduced in this paper explain the main shifts that have become the reasons for the formation of views concerning current food culture.