Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Food Matters


There has been quite a bit written lately about the way we should eat. This continues the long line of American prescriptions about eating, going back to the nineteenth century concerns about "roughage" and regular bowel movements, the early twentieth century concern for bland food, and our current concerns about everything from cholesterol, sugar, carbs and whatever. We seem to want to force people to eat the way we want them to. It is very puritanical, as we Americans are.

Personally, I am unconcerned about the way we "should" eat. I eat to fuel my body and because it is a pleasure. But I am fascinated by how our puritanical roots inform the way we talk about something that gives us pleasure, that is food. Our language is punitive. There are lots of "doing what is good for you" type phrases. This is why food matters. It allows us to see ourselves today. And by looking at the past, it allows us to see attitudes and culture of the past.

Because everyone eats, food crosses class lines, as well as all of those other lines - gender, race, education, geography, politics, economics, etc. And we can imagine what our forebears went through in their eating, which gives us a tangible way to identify with them.

SoFAB will celebrate its first annivesary next week. We opened the first week in June, 2008. We can celebrate having survived for a year. But we can be secure in realizing that a food museum in not a frivolous enterprise (although it is a fun one), but one that will preserve for the future a special window on our culture.

6 comments:

qiaoyun said...

I am so honored to be able to speak with you, the other Elizabeth, and other people at the SoFAB. I would love to spend the rest of my life studying food and restaurants in New Orleans. Miss you, Qiaoyun.

Make a Roux said...

Food matters because it holds places in our hearts, it has the ability to let us relive our childhoods, to transport us to our homes, and bring us nearer to our roots. SOFAB, I thank you for all you do.

Make Roux, a tried and true girl from South Louisiana

Robert said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your observation about our puritanical tendencies about what we should eat. The interesting thing is that the puritanical streak applies not just to those pushing diets (e.g. no fats, sugar, etc.) but also for those who are advocating a return to older ways of eating (locally grown, heirloom varieties, etc.) It's not sufficient that foods be tasty and enjoyable but they have to be good for you and, now, for the planet, too.

It would be curious to see what researchers 100 years will interpret about our culture from the food we eat and the way we talk about it.

Liz Williams said...

Qiaoyun, Hope you are well. It was good to work with you.

Liz Williams said...

Ms Roux and Robert,

Thanks for your comments. Robert, can you imagine being an anthropologist in the next century. We not only want right action, but also right motivation.

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