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The Connection of Food and Identity

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Gender and Food
  3. Food and Social Class
    Migration and Food
  4. Conclusion


Food has its unique place and role in describing identity. It can be central both for group and individual identity. As a group eats it can be asserted its diversity, hierarchy, as well as its unity and disunity at the same time. However, the relationship between people and food is definitely a complex one. It varies from biological to cultural or from nutritional to symbolic functions. All in all, when studying food and its connection to identities we appear on the path of understanding the historical and cultural background of it. This essay describes different issues, such as gender, class, migration or memory, to show the connection of food and identity.

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Gender and Food

We can divide the connection of food and gender into three parts. First is food production. Here of course is obvious that men’s and women’s abilities differ because of their power. However, women are responsible for half of the world’s food production, and in most developing countries they produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food.

Second division is about food preparation or cooking. It is well known that women are the ones that are in charge for it, even starting with the breast-feeding of their babies. Nowadays, in most of the families, women are responsible for food purchasing, grocery shopping, furthermore, they somehow effect on the flow of the food into their families, however this does not mean they are in position of power, as the responsibility is not equivalent to control.

The other side of cooking is consuming and here again is the difference between male and female. Women and men have different approach to food choice. It is also reported that women have more knowledge about food its nutrition, and are more invested in food-related issues. For instance, Uccula and Nuvoli (2017) showed that women compared to men are more likely to overestimate their weight and in consequence they have more desire to decrease their meal for a weight loss. Moreover, women tend to have more intake of fruits and vegetables and less intake of fat or salt, which shows that they put greater importance on healthy eating.

Food and Social Class

In general, social class is considered as one of the main and important variables in sociology. Nowadays, the impact on social behaviour by social class is challenged as we are moving towards a society without fixed status groups.

Many studies reported that food consumption has some social inequalities. Those studies also showed that while middle class women pay lots of attention on health and taste preferences of their family members when they do shopping or cooking, lower class women pay lots of attention on cost as it comes to the choice of food. Middle class people generally have healthier diets than lower-class people. Considerations that underlie choices of foodstuffs may explain this class difference in eating habits.

We are living the days where we can find information about almost everything and gaining food knowledge is not an exception. The more we know, the more we pay attention to what, when and how we eat. Nowadays, we have lots of choices and different variations of the same product, however, if its healthier, then it becomes more expensive. That is why when you are in the middle or higher social class you will shop and cook in regards to your health and taste preferences, while you have limited budget you will look for less healthy but cheap food. However, priorities also play the great role in food consumption. If people have the greater priority on eating healthy food with leading a healthy lifestyle, then they will replace their expensive cars with cheap ones, and choose not to wear brandy clothing.

Our food choices serve to symbolize how we define ourselves in terms of religion, ethnicity, social class and so on. What we eat also tells about our cultural and social backgrounds and speaks out about our experiences.

Migration and Food

Food & Migration is about food systems, and particularly food insecurity, with the movement of peoples. Migration sometimes is a necessity rather than aspiration or will. That is why as people move they try to bring memories that will make them feel home. One kind of those memories is food. It is important for a migrant as he/she tries to foster intimations of homely feelings, of situations such as they are imagined having experienced before migration. As an example, the Lebanese migrants may surround themselves with recognizable and pleasing objects, smells and sounds to promote specifically ‘Lebanese’ feelings of security.’ Cooking food from one’s home region has a great symbolic significance in the context of immigration, as dislocated people tend to eat their ethnic food to feel at home, as a catalyst of memories.

As we talk about Australia, we understand that it is a multicultural country so most of the population are migrants. And as people move they bring their cultural and food consumption behaviour with them. Which in consequence result to a taste change. For example, as people move from China to Australia and want to open a restaurant that will introduce people to their own taste, they try to combine the taste preference that Australia already had and combine that with Chinese so people here will be able to accept their taste, that is why the national cuisines here differ to what they really are in their home countries; cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc. As a result, we have a world taste now in Australia.

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Having all the above mentioned, we now know that food does have impact on people in our society, whether it is an individual or as a group. Moreover, it plays an important role for individual and societies in the reconstruction of their identity references. Their identity is visible when it comes to food consumption and there are symbolic values associated with food products and are closely linked to consumers’ willingness to pay, and then to prices. The twofold requirement of quality and identity expressed by Levi Strauss (1964) – ‘food must be good to eat and good to think about’ – has taken on particular importance nowadays. Even though these are elements that are inevitably related to the goods we eat, however, they differ by the categories they relate to, and thus, need different analysis. Those analysis suggest that food does not have an intrinsic identity, but it is the society or the individual who choose what is eaten and identify what is eatable.

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