Researching Food Habits

Researching Food Habits: Methods and Problems

Helen Macbeth
Jeremy MacClancy
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 228
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcv0r
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  • Book Info
    Researching Food Habits
    Book Description:

    The term 'Anthropology of Food' has become an accepted abbreviation for the study of anthropological perspectives on food, diet and nutrition, an increasingly important subdivision of anthropology that encompasses a rich variety of perspectives, academic approaches, theories, and methods. Its multi-disciplinary nature adds to its complexity. This is the first publication to offer guidance for researchers working in this diverse and expanding field of anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-612-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xi)
    H.M.M. and J.V.M.
  6. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  7. INTRODUCTION: HOW TO DO ANTHROPOLOGIES OF FOOD
    (pp. 1-14)
    Jeremy MacClancy and Helen Macbeth

    Anthropology is a broad school. It always has been. During its emergence in the nineteenth century the umbrella term ‘anthropology’ sheltered a surprisingly wide range of subjects: from the measuring of people’s skulls to see if they were of the criminal types to those campaigning against the evils of slavery. So long as any particular approach embraced the study of humans as social beings it could fit in within the broad rubric of ‘anthropology’ (from the Greekanthropos,human). In this sense anthropology is not so much a discipline, more a loose collection of several different disciplines. Even today the...

  8. 1. ANTHROPOLOGY OF FOOD AND PLURIDISCIPLINARITY
    (pp. 15-28)
    Igor de Garine

    Humans consume food to fulfil a primary biological need, but they are not only directed by this biological need. Omnivorous creatures, they can satisfy their nutritional needs by using a very broad range of foods. They can have a largely vegetarian diet, like the inland populations of New Guinea (Oomen and Corden 1970), or they may consume mostly animal foods, as among the Inuit of the Arctic (Draper 1977), in order to reach an acceptable, if not necessarily optimal, diet according to contemporary nutritional standards as defined by Western scientists. Some groups appear to be more successful than others in...

  9. 2. DEFINITIONS, CONCEPTS AND METHODS IN THE ETHNOBOTANY OF FOOD PLANTS
    (pp. 29-40)
    Attila T. Szabó

    In research into the anthropology of food one should collect information from local respondents about what they eat and what are the sources for that food. This of necessity involves communication with informants about such food items. This chapter concerns the collection of data about plants used for food. In a broad sense every plant which produces substances used, raw or prepared, in human nutrition might be defined as a food plant. Indirectly, too, plants eaten by herbivores, which in turn become human food, might also be considered significant in relation to human nutrition. The basic premise for ethnobotany is...

  10. 3. QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF FOOD: A COMPREHENSIVE QUALITATIVE/QUANTITATIVE APPROACH
    (pp. 41-54)
    Annie Hubert

    The quarrel about choosing between quantitative and qualitative research should be obsolete. A comprehensive method should combine both, especially in the field of anthropology of food where both approaches exist, have often been divergent, but ideally should be combined.

    One of the first anthropologists to have thought seriously about methods in collecting food-related data was Margaret Mead, acting for the Department of State of the United States of America, during the Second World War. On rereading her manual, it is surprising to see that it has not aged at all, and that the methods she suggests are still those we...

  11. 4. ‘TELL ME WHAT YOU EAT AND YOU WILL TELL ME WHO YOU ARE’: METHODOLOGICAL NOTES ON THE INTERACTION BETWEEN RESEARCHER AND INFORMANTS IN THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF FOOD
    (pp. 55-62)
    F. Xavier Medina

    This chapter concerns the interaction between researcher and informant in relation to the study of the anthropology of food. The relationship between researchers and informants is one of the main tools on which anthropologists rely in order to gain an insight into unknown facts. Information obtained (and later processed) by researchers through interviews, is a crucial asset for the sociocultural study of human food habits. However, information, based solely on informants’ assertions, is subject to certain constraints and biases. Exactly which ones depends on the kind of material the researcher hopes to gain. These restrictions may be removed or at...

  12. 5. FOOD, IDENTITY, IDENTIFICATION
    (pp. 63-74)
    Jeremy MacClancy

    Anthropologists need to be very cautious when talking about ‘identity’. For several reasons.

    Firstly, ‘identity’ is such a catch-all term that almost anything can come within its compass. A seemingly empty vessel fillable with almost any content, it can be used as a general framing device for a surprising range of ethnographic data. Some might think this a strength of the term, its versatility and possible extension being of potential benefit to social anthropology. After all, they might argue, key concepts are always inherently vague. The trouble is, adopting this style may well lead to us anthropologists imposingournotion...

  13. 6. DOING IT WRONG: WHY BOTHER TO DO IMPERFECT RESEARCH?
    (pp. 75-86)
    Gerald Mars and Valerie Mars

    There is a big problem in advising anyone how to do research. And no less a problem in receiving advice. This is because so much advice is necessarily concerned with ideal methods and ideal standards. As a result, recipients are likely to become apprehensive before they get to the field, demoralised when in it and often despairing when they emerge to write up. This veneration of the ideal, is evident in a whole range of disciplines but perhaps especially so in social anthropology. This paper is concerned with its implications for studies in the social anthropology of food. We need...

  14. 7. METHODS FOR ASSESSING TASTE ABILITIES AND HEDONIC RESPONSES IN HUMAN AND NONHUMAN PRIMATES
    (pp. 87-100)
    Bruno Simmen, Patrick Pasquet and Claude Marcel Hladik

    As a primary interface between an organism and the alimentary environment, the taste system is a major part of the physiological background from which feeding behaviour and food habits have developed. Accordingly, investigating taste abilities helps us understand not only the former interface that shaped the present human condition, but how sociocultural parameters currently interact with such a background as well. From an evolutionary perspective, nonhuman primates provide a reliable model for the study of the relationships between food choices and taste abilities. According to this logic, investigation of the large variability of human feeding behaviour should start from a...

  15. 8. RESEARCHING FOOD PREFERENCES: METHODS AND PROBLEMS FOR ANTHROPOLOGISTS
    (pp. 101-118)
    Helen Macbeth and Fiona Mowatt

    The study of human food preferences is indeed an area for cross-disciplinary discussion (Macbeth 1997), as biochemical processes and life experiences interrelate in the formation of each individual’s preferences and aversions. On the one hand, neurophysiologists and their colleagues in physiological psychology study the neurological pathways and neuronal responses of both the gustatory and the olfactory sensations involved. Rolls (1997) wrote a simplified introduction to these biochemical processes, and their integration in the brain, for anthropologists and other non-specialists, but, as the neurological sciences are advancing at a fast rate, a prospective researcher, interested in the neurophysiology of sensory perceptions,...

  16. 9. DIETARY INTAKE METHODS IN THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF FOOD AND NUTRITION
    (pp. 119-134)
    Stanley J. Ulijaszek

    Dietary and nutritional studies in anthropology may attempt to address issues in which food and nutrition are central, or where diet may be a peripheral or contributory component of a complex of problems within a group, population or society. Studies may be directly concerned with nutritional factors or they may be concerned with food symbolism, the perception of food, or the role of food in forging and maintaining identity. Dietary intake studies can be used to inform the study of food consumption, nutrient intake and nutritional status. Thus the range of ways that dietary intake studies can serve anthropological enquiry...

  17. 10. STUDYING FOOD INTAKE FREQUENCY: A MACROSURVEY TECHNIQUE FOR ANTHROPOLOGISTS
    (pp. 135-148)
    Jeya Henry and Helen Macbeth

    The quantification and assessment of dietary intake may seem to the uninitiated to be a simple matter of observation and measurement. However, no area of nutritional research has been so problematic as the measurement of food intake in free living populations. Today, eating habits not only vary between different nations and different cultures, but they have also dramatically changed over time. Simple dietary intake records cannot encompass all of the variables that have direct impact on consumption and its quantification (Cameron and van Staveren 1988). Nonetheless, significant progress has been made and methods for assessing dietary intake have been well...

  18. 11. THE CONCEPT OF ENERGY BALANCE AND THE QUANTIFICATION OF TIME ALLOCATION AND ENERGY EXPENDITURE
    (pp. 149-160)
    Patrick Pasquet

    An important concern for nutritionists and nutritional anthropologists is the balance between intake and expenditure of energy. This is referred to asenergy balance. The relevance of this to food anthropologists is that energy intake is gained largely through food, and to those interested in nutritional status it is whether intake exceeds the expenditure orvice versa. In developed countries people are encouraged to understand that through control of intake and/or exercise they can modify that balance to gain or lose weight. However, anthropologists tend to be more interested in groups, ‘populations’ or ‘societies’ and the study of energy intake...

  19. 12. METHODS FOR OBTAINING QUANTITATIVE DATA ON FOOD HABITS IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
    (pp. 161-168)
    Isabel González Turmo and José Mataix Verdú

    In 1994, while doing research on Mediterranean food and diet, we faced the need for a method that might enable us to quantify past food habits. More specifically, we wished to embark on an in-depth, comparative study of the cultural and nutritional aspects of food behaviour among the Andalusian population in the past.

    Thanks to the surveys carried out by Varelaet al.(1971), the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (INE)(1984) and by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1988 onwards (Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación 1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000), there were enough data...

  20. 13. RECONSTRUCTING DIETS FOR COMPENSATION FOR NUCLEAR TESTING IN RONGELAP, MARSHALL ISLANDS
    (pp. 169-180)
    Nancy J. Pollock

    In order to reconstruct a diet the anthropologist must rely on a number of sources of information which comprise what Geertz (1993) has termed ‘the web of culture’. The place of food in culture has slowly gained recognition from Richards’ (1939) studies to more recent analyses (e.g. Lupton 1996). Diet may be assessed from a biological approach to intake/output or from an ecological approach showing uses of local foods, or from a broad social anthropological approach that considers food as an essential component of social life (Pollock 1992). Food, then, is circumscribed by cultural bounds that contribute to the unique...

  21. 14. FOOD, CULTURE, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC IDENTITY: REVITALISING THE FOOD-SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE IN THE STUDY OF FOOD-BASED IDENTITY
    (pp. 181-192)
    Ellen Messer

    Food is a basic concern for all human societies, and reflecting on this basic concern, anthropologists have long been interested in human diets. From a food-systems perspective, anthropologists have studied (a) the ecological and market availability of foods, (b) the sociocultural classifications of foods as ‘edible’ or ‘inedible’, the rankings of ‘preferred’ or ‘less preferred’ foods, and rules for distribution, and (c) the nutritional and medical consequences of particular cultural consumption patterns, including patterns of food sharing. We have also explored from sociological, psychological, ecological, and nutritional perspectives how diets and humans have evolved, and the biocultural significance of food...

  22. EPILOGUE: SOME FINAL HINTS
    (pp. 193-196)
    Helen Macbeth and Jeremy MacClancy

    This book opened with a discussion of the many sub-disciplines of anthropology and the many perspectives on human food. However, the message that we have also conveyed is that new researchers need not includeallthe perspectives nor masterallof the techniques discussed. Our intention is that, through a greater appreciation of the diverse methods for researching human food, researchers can approach their chosen topic as fully as possible.

    Whether, at the outset, each researcher has only a very general idea of the topic to be studied or a clearly identified enthusiasm, an essential task will be to carry...

  23. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 197-204)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 205-214)