Food is the great unifier that connects us across cultures and generations. We have all had those moments when we smelled something that reminded us of our childhood or recreated a dish that we had abroad that immediately brought us back to that foreign place. Food can quite literally propel you to another time, another country, another culture without even leaving your dinner table, which is why food culture is such an important way that we as people are able to connect and relate to one another.
Food culture is as much a part of me as I was a part of my food culture, and as I got older and began to travel and explore food cultures and the way in which they nourish our bodies differently, I began to better understand how my own food culture was able to give me a natural appreciation and sense of connection for the way in which food, local ingredients, and traditions can connect us as people — even when nothing else seems possible.
Different Food Cultures Around the World
There are many different food cultures of the world. Some are more distinctive and globally famous than others, and some which very rarely leave their regional environment but are still just as significant to the local community they influence.
Different food cultures around the world are influenced by many factors, but the most noticeable is arguably the way in which different food cultures utilize specific ingredients and spices to evoke unique flavor profiles that define their food culture. Therefore, food cultures often vary regionally even within one country depending on the landscape, weather, and history that each region uniquely experienced.
While the United States is not known for having the most positive food culture, this is something that is very apparent as local cuisines in the United States vary drastically depending on what region you live in. The same holds true for Italian food culture, which varies drastically from North to South.
Regardless of what ingredients, flavors, or traditions exist between different food cultures there are two things that act as connected threads woven throughout them all — community and pleasure. There isn’t a food culture in the world that does not include these two parts of our food experience, even though they are often overlooked and undervalued in the American interpretation of food culture.
What this means is that we were meant to enjoy our food. We experience pleasure when we eat. We are meant to enjoy our food. Food cultures are founded on the way in which food was used to celebrate religious holidays, community events, and family gatherings. In other words, food is celebrated and respected as an essential part of what makes humans human.
Importance of Food and Culture for Well-Being
Food cultures, no matter where in the world, all encompass a few key components:
- involve sharing food with community and family. They…
- value the needs of the land over the convenience driven desires of people
- use food to celebrate religious and community events
- focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and use them to create unique and distinguishable flavors
- value their food experiences and then move on with their day
- are not something to be manipulated, it is meant to be shared and celebrated
This is where we begin to be able to clearly see how our food is meant to support the land it is grown on, nourishing both our bodies and our environment, as well as something that we are meant to live in balance with, not control.
For these reasons it is easy to see how food and culture conflict significantly with the Western diet culture that exists today to separate ourselves from our food culture, and instead turn our food into something to be controlled and measured.
How Food Culture Impacts Health
But what does food culture have to do with health? EVERYTHING. Without a strong food culture food becomes something that we manipulate for personal gain. It stops being something that we respect, and becomes something that we aim to control, and the more we aim to control our food the less we value and experience it.
Food cultures are deeply rooted parts of our history that has evolved and developed overtime. It is essential parts of how we support our overall health and nourish our bodies. However, over the past half century within the United States especially, commercially processed foods and the insurgence of supermarkets and marketed diet culture have disconnected many Americans with their traditional food culture to the point where they may not even recognize it anymore.
For so many Americans the phrase food culture doesn’t mean much. Food is something that comes packaged, that is counted and manipulated, and overall disconnected from any real meaning. At some point we decided to remove the culture from our food and our health began to suffer.
All you have to do is take a look at the blue zones of the world (the areas of the world researched to have the happiest and longest lifespans) to understand that our food culture is as much a part of our personal and societal well-being, as our food is itself.