The saying that “you are what you eat” is often used to encourage healthy eating, but could it also say something about the cultural importance of food? What we eat—and our relationship with food—is actually a considerable part of cultural identity.
Identity is a complex concept that can be difficult to pin down. It involves various aspects of individuals or groups, such as gender, race, religion, and more. National Geographic provides this cultural identity definition: “the shared characteristics of a group of people, which encompasses place of birth, religion, language, cuisine, social behaviors, art, literature, and music.”
Cuisine is considered intangible culture, which is:
- Traditional, contemporary, and living at the same time
This means that food traditions are a part of cultural identity. More than that, food is a “living” form of culture that is still practiced and continues to evolve. The relationship between food and culture is a complex one, with certain produce and dishes linked—for better or worse—to cultural identities. Those distinctions can promote unity or contention, but in either case, they highlight the importance of food in defining and expressing culture.
What Is Food Culture?
Food culture refers to the ways in which specific cultures and subcultures prepare food. It encompasses the ingredients used, the methods of cooking, and the ways in which food is presented, eaten, and shared. Food culture is often spoken of in relation to regional differences, and can be influenced by things like:
- Fishing and hunting
- Food system problems
- Religious and cultural values
Types of food cultures can be seen in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list includes food and drink traditions such as:
- Truffle hunting in Italy
- Ceebu jën, the national dish of Senegal
- Lavash bread in Armenia
- The Mediterranean diet
- Hawker food culture in Singapore
- Turkish coffee
- Belgian beer
Food and the way we prepare it is so much more than survival. It’s a way of engaging with cultural traditions and expressing something about ourselves, our connections, and the people around us.
Here at Appetite For Change, we use food as a tool to build health, wealth, and social change in North Minneapolis. We bring people together to learn, cook, eat, and grow food, creating change that lasts. Learn about our own urban agriculture projects and explore what we do for our community. Browse our shop, consider volunteering, or donate today to support our incredible impact in North Minneapolis! Together, we can create well-rooted and flourishing change!