Exploring the Social Imagination

Monday, November 17, 2014

Food/Eating and Etiquette in the Social Imagiantion.

We all know or should know that food is an important part of everyday life and has contributed to the growth of cultures. Someone once said, "The plow gave way to civilization the formation of societies and all science". What that quote means is that society as we know it socially evolved  through agriculture and gathering around the table. So it is not surprising to know that the development of utensils to eat with came out of that as well. The place where people settled and 'got' civilized was largely through eating together what they produced together in that place.  Place then as it is today had/has much to do with shaping people's food consumption. As people settled in a place and grew what plants successfully in that place shaped their culture- their being and sharing social reality in a place. As cultures grew more sophisticated in what they produced, cooked and shared, so did the tools they used to eat with.  So, when you set down to eat your next meal you can to a great extent thank the Greeks, the Romans, the French, and the Chinese for helping to bring to you the ability to enjoy the delights in front of you. One of the oldest utensils ever used by man is the spoon. You thought that it would have been the knife right? Well, the spoon actually was the first as cavemen and their descendants would use various shaped shells to scoop out their food and eat. The hands worked for roasted meat but the spoon came about to get things that the hands just could not hold. Archaeological evidence shows that the earliest spoons were made of shells (sea shells and snail shells) and even pieces of wood that were slightly curved. The most far reaching design of a spoon came from the Romans. They developed long handles with round and oval ends to help hold the food better. Due to the vast Roman Empire and the influence they had on cultures, the new spoon designs took off. The first ones though made of shell and wood continued for many centuries. Over the time the rich were able to have gold and silver ones. But the development of tin and pewter in cutlery brought the most advanced spoons into the hands of the masses. Forks have become one of the most basic of our dining instruments.  They date back as far as the Greeks, but originally were created with two tines as a spearing utensil.  Dining was not the intent of the first fork creation.  Cutting and serving was the main purpose in which two tines worked wonderfully.  By the seventh century it was common place at the tables.  Originally, like most things, it was the rich who had them first.  They were very ornate.  Yet Europe was very slow to adopt this tool.  Many comments were made that God created hands and that was good enough for them.  Eventually, small forks could be found to retrieve messy foods so that the hands could stay relatively clean.  As the years rolled by, the forks were used more and more.  It was in the seventh century that forks with four tines were developed.  The inventors saw that when using the two tines, food could easily slip through it.  The addition of two extra tines kept the food on the fork.

Moreover, in the social imagination, how we eat is socially determined and what we eat as well. Food has a sociological significance that far outweighs the attention it has received. The willingness to share food, for example, 'potluck supper' defines membership in social groups. Affirming, who is who, what they bring and how much. There are so many interesting aspects of behavior that are directly food related. For instance, consumption patterns, nutritional trends, lay beliefs and practices, eating disorders, shortage and plenty, as well as the impact of technology and dining out.

Tara Tober, a University of Virginia graduate student in Sociology said boldly "Sociologists have largely ignored food until recently, because it was seen as just biological, something we needed to survive". "But it is very much social when you think about what we eat, who we eat it with and where we eat it."
Tober said that the surrounding society influences the development of individual taste, explaining why some foods are very much identified with nations, such as kimchi in Korea or tea in England or potatoes in Ireland. Some ethnic groups eat foods that other ethnic groups sternly reject. "Taste and preferences are socially shaped," Tober said. "They are not as individual as people think." Even though globalization has broken down some barriers and introduced people to new foods.  And, “despite modern mythology”, Tober said, “national studies show families have dinner together an average of five days a week”. Excerpt from - You Are What You Eat: A Course at the University of Virginian, by Matt Kelly 2008.

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