Section 3 Discussion


A Spaniard shows authentic "jamon," sliced thin and sticks to the plate!

Food and Culture

In most college composition textbooks, there is an entire section devoted to the complexities of American "culture" and the sinister activities of the media, advertising, and popular movies and television. However, one could claim that these information outlets are not necessarily the best way to understand a culture. We spend more time in the kitchen than we do watching movies, and there are few things that impact us in the way that food does: from how we produce and consume food to who we eat with.

Adam Platt, in his essay, "Eating Myself Silly," claims that "For a whole new generation of travelers, food is a living, breathing piece of cultural anthropology, with its own language, its own history, and even its own ancient temples of worship. Whether you're visiting the food stalls of Togo or Bangkok or the grand restaurants of Paris or Rome, there's no quicker, more immediate way to commune with the essence of a culture, the new age 'gastronauts' will tell you, than by taking to the streets and eating yourself silly." The article on Food and Culture describes the role of food in a number of cultures.

There is a large and growing voice in American culture right now that begs for all of us to think more ethically and sustainably about the food we eat. Some have even gone so far as to call it a "Food Revolution." However, there are others who think that the concept of nostalgia has infected this movement towards better eating. For instance, Brent Cunningham, in "Pastoral Romance," says it is "bourgeois nostalgia" that is driving most of the conversation and that "the reality of America’s food past is far more complicated, and troubling, than is suggested by the romantic image at the heart of our foodie nostalgia."

Regardless of what is driving today's food-reform movement, most of us would agree that something needs to change the way most Americans eat.

For discussion, read the following two essays:


Pastoral Romance' by Brent Cunningham in Lapham’s Quarterly

"Food and Culture", an online article:

People also connect to their cultural or ethnic group through similar food patterns. Immigrants often use food as a means of retaining their cultural identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods. The ingredients, methods of preparation, preservation techniques, and types of food eaten at different meals vary among cultures. The areas in which families live– and where their ancestors originated–influence food likes and dislikes. These food preferences result in patterns of food choices within a cultural or regional group.

Food items themselves have meaning attached to them. In many Western countries a box of chocolates would be viewed as an appropriate gift. The recipient of the gift would react differently to a gift of cabbage or carrots than to chocolate. In other countries chocolates might be a less appropriate gift.

Nations or countries are frequently associated with certain foods. For example, many people associate Italy with pizza and pasta. Yet Italians eat many other foods, and types of pasta dishes vary throughout Italy. Methods of preparation and types of food vary by regions of a nation. Some families in the United States prefer to eat "meat and potatoes," but "meat and potatoes" are not eaten on a regular basis, nor even preferred, by many in the United States and would not be labeled a national cuisine. Grits, a coarsely ground corn that is boiled, is eaten by families in the southern United States. A package of grits is only available in the largest supermarkets in the upper Midwest and would have been difficult to find even in large Midwestern supermarkets twenty years ago.

Regional food habits do exist, but they also change over time. As people immigrate, food practices and preferences are imported and exported. Families move to other locations, bringing their food preferences with them. They may use their old recipes with new ingredients, or experiment with new recipes, incorporating ingredients to match their own tastes. In addition, food itself is imported from other countries. Approximately 80 percent of Samoa's food requirements are imported from the United States, New Zealand, or Australia (Shovic 1994). Because people and food are mobile, attempts to characterize a country or people by what they eat are often inaccurate or tend to lump people into stereotypical groups.

Nevertheless, what is considered edible or even a delicacy in some parts of the world might be considered inedible in other parts. Although food is often selected with some attention to physical need, the values or beliefs a society attaches to potential food items define what families within a cultural group will eat. For example, both plant and animal sources may contribute to meeting nutritional requirements for protein; soybeans, beef, horsemeat, and dog meat are all adequate protein sources. Yet, due to the symbolism attached to these protein sources, they are not equally available in all societies. Moreover, even when the foods perceived to be undesirable are available, they are not likely to be eaten by people who have a strong emotional reaction against the potential food item.Some food beliefs and practices are due to religious beliefs. Around the world, Muslims fast during Ramadan, believed to be the month during which the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, was given from God to the Prophet Muhammad. During this month, Muslims fast during daylight hours, eating and drinking before dawn and after sunset. Orthodox Jews and some conservative Jews follow dietary laws, popularly referred to as a  kosher diet, discussed in Jewish scripture. The dietary laws, which describe the use and preparation of animal foods, are followed for purposes of spiritual health. Many followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are vegetarians, in part, because of a doctrine of noninjury or nonviolence. Abstinence from eating meat in these traditions stems from the desire to avoid harming other living creatures. Despite religious food prescriptions, dietary practices vary widely even among those who practice the same faith. Such variations may be due to branches or denominations of a religious group, national variations, and individuals' or families' own degree of orthodoxy or religious adherence.

In addition to impacting food choices, culture also plays a role in food-related etiquette. People in Western societies may refer to food-related etiquette as table manners, a phrase that illustrates the cultural expectation of eating food or meals at a table. Some people eat with forks and spoons; more people use fingers or chopsticks. However, utensil choice is much more complicated than choosing chopsticks, fingers, or flatware. Among some groups who primarily eat food with their fingers, diners use only the right hand to eat. Some people use only three fingers of the right hand. Among other groups, use of both hands is acceptable. In some countries, licking the fingers is polite; in others, licking the fingers is considered impolite (and done only when a person thinks no one else is watching). Rules regarding polite eating may increase in formal settings. At some formal dinners, a person might be expected to choose the "right" fork from among two or three choices to match the food being eaten at a certain point in the meal.

The amount people eat and leave uneaten also varies from group to group. Some people from Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries might leave a little bit of food on their plates in order to indicate that their hunger has been satisfied (Kittler 2001). Cooks from other locations might be offended if food is left on the plate, indicating that the guest may have disliked the food. Similarly, a clean plate might signify either satisfaction with the meal or desire for more food.

Even the role of conversation during mealtime varies from place to place. Many families believe that mealtime is a good time to converse and to "catch up" on the lives of family and friends. Among other families, conversation during a meal is acceptable, but the topics of conversation are limited. In some Southeast Asian countries it is considered polite to limit conversation during a meal (Kittler 2001).

Food plays an important role in the lives of families in most cultures. However, the degree of importance varies from culture to culture. For example, in American Samoa most family activities and ceremonies center on eating. A host family demonstrates its prosperity or societal rank by providing large quantities of food (Shovic 1994). Among other families in other locations, activities and celebrations include food, but food is not necessarily the center of the event.


NOW: answer the question below. Remember that your response should be unique, well written, and approximately 2 paragraphs long. It should also clearly show that you have read the assigned essays by quoting or otherwise referring to them. Although you are not required to do so, reading and responding to other students' comments might help your grade in the long run! To see an example of excellent, thoughtful discussions about food, skim through this link: "Jamie Oliver Shows How Chicken Nuggets are Made" via Metafilter.   Some of the comments are very short, but pay attention to the longer ones, since those are the kinds of responses that will get the A!


Discussion Question: If food really is a reflection of culture, what does current food-reform say about the way American culture might be changing? Also, not all of America is the same; there are smaller sub cultures within the larger one. For instance, the way that Alaskans eat is different from the way Southerners eat. How do Alaskan ways of eating differ from others, and how do they reflect Alaskan culture?

Alain do Botton begins his essay, "Treasure Hunt" with this statement: "However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be the widely held belief that our work should make us happy." Although most of us might agree with this statement, de Botton goes on to explain that this idea has not always been the Truth. His claims are similar to those we hear surrounding Love and Marriage; marriage has not always been something humans have done for reasons of love, and was more commonly arranged for reasons of tradition and economy.

The quest to help young people discover their "true calling" and to guide them towards an occupation they love has long been a part of public schooling in America. Recently however, this vocational exploration has been co-opted by commercial entities; just look at a company like KidZania, a "multinational chain of family entertainment centers, where kids try out professions that have been downsized, simplified, and made fun." Michael Deri Smith writes about this company in his essay "State of Play."   In it, he claims that "at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee....To put it another way entirely, the candy cigarette has found a rightful heir. And it’s coming to the U.S. within the next two years."

What we do for work is often shaped by larger forces outside of us such as family, culture, and economy, even though we may believe that what we fee "called" to do comes from internal forces.


For discussion, read:


"Treasure Hunt" by   Alain de Botton in Lapham’s Quarterly

State of Play' by Mike Deri Smith in The Morning News


Then, answer the following question:

How do things like culture, family, and economy shape what we do for a living? Most of us as children were asked the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Does happiness play a role in our decisions? What happens when we have to sacrifice what we love to do for a paycheck? Is that always necessary? Don't forget to take the articles you read into account when answering these questions.

This week's topic of discussion is celebrity. The status and wealth that celebrity often brings (or the celebrity that status and wealth often brings) often sets celebrities apart from the rest of us in profound ways. Some, like Chris Norris, would argue that celebrity and the media have propagated a "toxic new form of narcissism" among common folks as well. YouTube, blogging, and the seemingly constant availability of at least a small audience is available to all of us.

Read the following article and then answer the question below:

Hitting Bottom' by Chris Norris from The New York Times

Chris Norris discusses the connection between celebrity and addiction. How do you think he makes this connection? Do you think he's right about the relationship? Dr. Drew (Drew Pinsky), the subject of Norris's article, is a celebrity himself. What does narcissism have to do with addiction? Do you think there is, like Norris suggests, a toxic narcissism in American culture?

The Pepper Spraying Cop Meme Goes Viral

You probably know your memes, right? You probably have an LOLCat at home.   Or maybe you were the guy planking in that Tumblr blog? If you don't know what a "meme" is, basically, a fad. Richard Dawkins originally coined the term in his book, The Selfish Gene, saying that examples of memes might be "tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches" (192).   Memes spread via human culture. They are ideas. Dawkins even went so far as to say that memes "parasitize" our brains, turning them into hosts that further spread the memes to others. James Gleick, author of “What Defines a Meme?' thinks it's important to separate the ideas from the person spreading the ideas: "The meme is not the dancer but the dance."

If a meme is a real, yet abstract, thing, then one could argue that memes are spreading and mutating more quickly via the internet than they ever have in the history of human culture. Just look at the rise of what some are calling "massive-scale online collaboration," a way that we are beginning to solve problems collectively, sometimes without even knowing it.


Read the following article and then discuss one or more of the questions below:

What Defines a Meme?' by James Gleick in Smithsonian Magazine

What happens when memes go bad? Could we see racism as a kind of cruel meme? Some memes are obviously beneficial for humans, but others are probably not so good for us.   Do you think there is a benefit to something like LOLCats spreading like wildfire? What about something like the Pepper Spraying Cop? Was/is that meme simply about making people laugh or is there a more political message underlying the photos?

What does it mean to be a skeptic? Definitions abound, but in general, healthy skepticism is necessary to be an educated, well rounded adult. There are a number of different branches of technical skepticism: scientific skepticism, religious skepticism, and philosophical skepticism. What they all share in common is a kind of “wait and see' attitude.   Any idea presented to a skeptic is held in limbo until the skeptic has thought long and hard about it, researched it, considered other ideas, and tested it for accuracy.

This week read the following articles and then answer the question below:


Confessions of a Former Environmental Skeptic' by Michael Shermer

Wikipedia entry on “Logical Fallacies' (Link is not working well at times, so just google Wikipedia Logical Fallacies)


Choose one of the fallacies you read about in the Wikipedia entry. Give an example of a fallacy of your choice. Each of you must choose a different fallacy. If someone has already covered "Straw Man," you must choose something else. Don't use the example given by Wikipedia.   Some easy places to find examples of logical fallacies in use is the Fox News page on Politics, or do a Google image search using the keyword "ads." Then, share with your classmates and experience you've had where either you or someone you know used a logical fallacy in an argument.

Childhood and adolescence are social and scientific constructs that define a biological reality. As children grow into adulthood, we award them a status reserved specifically for adults: the right to drive, vote, drink, etc.   Contemporary American society tends to ascribe certain values to childhood that shape the way we treat children; specifically, the value of "innocence" shapes much of behavior we have towards children. Children (and adolescents), in order to remain innocent, are to be shielded from sexuality, violence, drugs and alcohol, hard physical labor, and other things deemed "adult."   Innocence, in that case becomes a kind of ignorance.

How often do we stop to really think about whether that's the right approach? Should children and adolescence be shielded from knowledge of the adult world?

Read the following articles and then answer the questions below:

"Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?"  by Mary Elizabeth Williams in  Salon.

 "Teens Crave Young Adult Books on Really Dark Topics (And That's OK)" by Gale Forman in  Time Magazine

What do you think of contemporary ideas of childhood and adolescence? Do you think that Williams or Forman are right? Should young adult fiction be sanitized of its violent tendencies? How much shelter should American youth be granted?

How do we know what's real or what's reliable when it comes to things like modern medicine and science? How do you know whether a fad diet will really work?   Developing critical thinking skills is key, but it's also important to have some knowledge of the world around you. For instance, a college education can equip you with enough knowledge about the human body, biology, and human health for you to adequately evaluate health articles you find on the internet.

Read the following article and then answer the questions below:

The Huffington Post is Crazy About Your Health' by Rahul K. Parikh in Salon

What role should ethics play in health and medical writing? Do you think that medical writers have an obligation to use good research? What is the role of the consumer in all of this? Even if a consumer takes the time to educate him or herself, what happens when there is a glut of misinformation out there?

Mashup Culture, Bootleg Culture, Re-Mix Culture... Whatever you call it, the tendency to collage together pieces of pop-culture into new and exciting forms is here to stay. The last decade or so of internet evolution has brought forth a whole new world of creative possibilities. Mashup Culture has, in part, emerged with the increasing availability of (and decreasing costs of) media editing tools. From iMovie to Photoshop, it's extremely easy for any of us to slice, dice, mix, remaster, and edit our own artistic creations.

Yet legally and economically we're having a hard time keeping up with the changes. New copyright laws, Fair Use legislation, and ethical practices are emerging daily, and there is a constant tension between our desire to control who gets paid for what and the fact that millions upon millions of digital media pieces of varying quality are going up every day.   Growing up in a culture that tolerates and promotes collage can be difficult once one enters into the academic realm, where credit must always be given where credit is due.

Read the following articles and then answer the questions below:

The Ecstasy of Influence: a Plagiarism' by Jonothan Lethem in Harper’s Magazine

It's Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It's 'Repurposing'' a response to Lethem by Kenneth Goldsmith in The Chronicle

Both of these writers would agree that art couldn't survive without appropriation, but where do we draw the line? Should a 13 year old be able to post a video of herself lip syncing to Shania Twain song without getting into copyright infringement trouble? What if Eminem does a cover? Should he have to pay royalties when a 13 year old doesn't? What does all of this mean for you as a student? What is the line between creative appropriation of an idea and outright plagiarism? Remember to try to demonstrate that you've actually read the articles above.

With all that's happened in the last year regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement and the "1%" rhetoric that seems to be everywhere, some of you may have begun thinking about the way money moves in our society. Consider what you know about the lives of the wealthy in America, from CEO's to celebrities, then read the following article by Andrew Carnegie, one the most well-known "rags to riches" stories in American history. By the time he retired he was worth 4% of the total   U.S. national wealth.

The Gospel According to Andrew Carnegie' From "Wealth," an article published in the North American Review. There is a new book out on this so my link is not working well. Try this address for it:

What do you think of Carnegie's perspectives on wealth? Do you think this perspective is widely held today? If not, do you think that has an influence on our culture? On politics?

Read the following essay, a beautiful argument by the late, David Foster Wallace, that later became a book by the same name. Then answer the questions below:

Consider the Lobster' by David Foster Wallace from Gourmet Magazine

Another link to the article which may work better is:

What exactly does Foster Wallace want us to consider? Did he reveal in the essay something that made you think differently? What's the point of his footnotes being so long? At the center of his argument is this question: "Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?" What conclusion do you think he ultimately comes to?