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Everyone Eats

Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture

E. N. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 295
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  • Book Info
    Everyone Eats
    Book Description:

    Everyone eats, but rarely do we ask why or investigate why we eat what we eat. Why do we love spices, sweets, coffee? How did rice become such a staple food throughout so much of eastern Asia? Everyone Eats examines the social and cultural reasons for our food choices and provides an explanation of the nutritional reasons for why humans eat, resulting in a unique cultural and biological approach to the topic. E. N. Anderson explains the economics of food in the globalization era, food's relationship to religion, medicine, and ethnicity as well as offers suggestions on how to end hunger, starvation, and malnutrition. Everyone Eats feeds our need to understand human ecology by explaining the ways that cultures and political systems structure the edible environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0779-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Everyone Eats
    (pp. 1-10)

    The eighteenth-century Zen poet Ryokan probes us on many levels. He is most concerned with the ultimate questions: What is life? Why live? Is there such a thing as life or existence? Indeed, if you ponder those, you will find much to laugh about….

    But there are more immediate, if no less laughable, questions posed by this innocent-seeming verse. Why do we eat what we eat? How did “rice” become synonymous with “food” throughout so much of eastern Asia?

    We may further ask, How many of our foodways are determined by biology, how many by culture? Why do we love...

  4. 1 Obligatory Omnivores
    (pp. 11-39)

    Only those who can appreciate the least palatable of vegetable roots know the meaning of life.

    —Hung Tzu-ch’eng,A Chinese Garden of Serenity

    The long and circumstantial story of human evolution explains much. It explains why we need, and want, so much variety in our diets. It explains why we crave sugar and fat. It explains why we can adjust to such a range of regimes. It explains specific nutritional needs: vitamin C from our fruit-eating heritage, protein in quantity because of our large size, active life, and long history of eating not only meat but also high-nutrient plant foods...

  5. 2 Human Nutritional Needs
    (pp. 40-61)

    Human needs are far more than physical requirements. Dan Jantzen, the distinguished biologist, has said that human needs are “food, shelter, and sex” (Jantzen 1998). If only it were that simple. Shelter by itself is no adequate way to stay warm; one needs fire, clothing, and materials for repair, at the very least. Sex is only the beginning of reproduction. Among humans, five minutes of sex leads to fifteen years or more of hard childrearing work.

    Food, likewise, is complicated. (For this and what follows, I have relied on Kiple and Ornelas 2000 and, especially, Shils et al. 1999; see...

  6. 3 More Needs Than One
    (pp. 62-69)

    Food may or may not be a source of more pleasure than sex, but it does have one advantage: it is easier to study. Observing people’s sex lives is Not Done, at least in societies known to me. Americans love to talk obsessively about their sex lives, but their honesty may lag well behind their talkativeness, and one is not allowed to check by observation.

    Food, by contrast, is normally a public matter. There are some societies, all very food-short ones, in which eating is a private or even secret matter. In the vast majority of societies, however, eating is...

  7. 4 The Senses: Taste, Smell, and the Adapted Mind
    (pp. 70-81)

    A walk with a dog can reveal much about scent preferences. While the human enjoys the scent of flowers, resins, and fresh foliage, the dog delights in seeking out garbage, carrion, and excrement. Indeed, the dog often perfumes itself with these substances, by rolling and rubbing its shoulders in them.

    Explaining foodways may reasonably begin with explaining scent preferences. What we usually call “taste” is actually smell. The actual taste receptors on the tongue detect salt, sweet, bitter, and sour, as well as the taste of MSG (a taste called “umami”), but not other taste characteristics. Everything else—meatiness, rose...

  8. 5 Basics: Environment and Economy
    (pp. 82-96)

    The most basic determinants of foodways are environment and economy.

    This is so obvious, and so generally realized, that it is often taken as the whole story (e.g. M. Harris 1974, 1985; Harris and Ross 1987). Much of the present book is devoted to qualifying such a simple view. However, no one can deny that environment and economy have been the main shapers of foodways for most people over most of history.

    In the short run, they can be almost totally determinative. Agriculture in less-than-affluent areas is basically a matter of producing a diet that people can afford. This means...

  9. 6 Food as Pleasure
    (pp. 97-108)

    We eat largely to stay alive. Most people in the world, most of the time, have to take whatever they can get—usually dull, inadequate, depressing fare. But almost everyone gets to celebrate occasionally, and good food is almost always at the core of good times. For the lucky 25 percent of the world’s citizens who can eat when and what they want or at least havesomebreadth of choice, daily fare can be diverse and tasty. Even among the other 75 percent, people often find ways to spice up their stodgy diets by using wild herbs, simple fermentation...

  10. 7 Food Classification and Communication
    (pp. 109-123)

    We are all aware of the value of food as a mark or badge of ethnicity, religion, class, and other social groupings. The bald statement of this obvious fact is fairly banal. In fact, there is more to food talk.

    I did a small bit of field work in Tahiti, decades ago. People would often greet me by wordlessly offering a piece of fruit or a sip of a drink. I learned that this substituted for a verbal greeting. One could say “ia orana” (“hello”), or one could offer a piece of food. I went on to learn that constant...

  11. 8 Me, Myself, and the Others: Food as Social Marker
    (pp. 124-139)

    Food as communication finds most of its applications in the process of defining one’s individuality and one’s place in society. Food communicates class, ethnic group, lifestyle affiliation, and other social positions. Eating is usually a social matter, and people eat every day. Thus, food is available for management as a way of showing the world many things about the eater. It naturally takes on much of the role of communicating everything. Indeed, it may be second only to language as a social communication system.

    Elaborate social messages are carried in feast behavior. In Chinese formal hospitality, honor and respect are...

  12. 9 Food and Traditional Medicine
    (pp. 140-153)

    One very important area for meaning and significance is medical use of food. Diet therapy is performed everywhere in the world.

    I have been especially interested in the very widespread belief that some foods are “heating,” others “cooling” to the body, while still others are “balanced” or “neutral” (Anderson 1987, 1988, 1996; Foster 1994; Laderman 1981). This has nothing to do with actual food temperature. The belief can be traced back to Hippocrates, and he says he got it from earlier sources (see Hippocrates [ascribed] 1978; see also Dalby 1997).

    His later disciple, Galen, is the one who really popularized...

  13. 10 Food and Religion
    (pp. 154-161)

    Foodways are perhaps at their most complex when they become involved in religion. Some religions order the eating of meat, when sacrifices are shared out (Smith 1894). Others ban the eating of meat, at least for holy devotees; meat is seen as involving the killing of animals, a violent and antispiritual thing. The religions based in India—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism—share this commitment to what is called in Sanskritahimsa, “nonviolence.” As noted above, the most devout Jains eat only fruit (see Chapple 1998).

    Robertson Smith’s studies (see Smith 1894) of food sharing as the classic, basic religious act...

  14. 11 Change
    (pp. 162-185)

    Leopold Bloom, in James Joyce’sUlysses(1961:55), expressed a fondness for organ meats, fish roe, and, in short, what we now sometimes call “variety meats.” He was especially fond of kidneys, with their “tang of faintly scented urine,” and was having them for breakfast on the day commemorated in the novel. The hundredth anniversary of the original publication of the work was just celebrated in Dublin, and thousands of people ritually consumed grilled kidneys—culture history in the making.

    Bloom’s delights are no longer acceptable to most English-speaking eaters—a pity, for they are indeed very good.

    Foodways change. We...

  15. 12 Foods and Borders: Ethnicities, Cuisines, and Boundary Crossings
    (pp. 186-208)

    Foodways are created by dynamic processes. We usually think of them as “ethnic,” but ethnicity is not a God-given trait. It is politically defined. It changes constantly with shifting patterns of politics, conquest, and trade.

    We speak of “French food,” “Italian food,” and “American food,” but such labels are notoriously ambiguous. Does French food include Provençal? If not, where does French stop and Provençal start? Does Italian food include the Swiss-style food of the historically German-speaking valleys of the Alto Adige? American food is sometimes taken to mean all the food of the United States and Canada; sometimes to mean...

  16. 13 Feeding the World
    (pp. 209-234)

    All this understanding of foodways would be unworthy of attention if it did not help us with the world food problem.

    At present, for the first time in the history of the world, there is food enough for all (Smil 2000). Yet, around a billion people are undernourished (see chapter 1). Hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry most nights of their lives. Starvation is still one of the commonest causes of death.

    Yet, ironically, an almost equal number is overnourished, suffering from obesity. The world food problem, today, is not one of absolute lack but of absurdly...

  17. Appendix: Explaining It All: Nutritional Anthropology and Food Scholarship
    (pp. 235-244)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 245-256)
  19. References
    (pp. 257-284)
  20. Index
    (pp. 285-294)
  21. About the Author
    (pp. 295-295)