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We Eat What? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Unusual Foods in the United States
Pagexiv(15 of 356)
xiv INTRODUCTION Why? How did this food come to be eaten? What is the cultural significance? And most important, where can I try some? Because in reading this book, an open mind is the difference between a voy- euristic and/or ethnocentric approach (“Eww, we eat that? Gross!”) and an educa- tional touristic one (“We eat that? Interesting. I want to learn more about the food, the people, and the culture”). Why Food? The need for food and drink is our most powerful biological drive. Quite simply, without it, we die. But food is much more than nutrients allowing us to thrive. The foods we eat—how they are grown, how they come to market, how we procure them, cook them (or buy them cooked), and eat them, including when and with whom—together form our foodways or ways with food. These foodways are shaped by numerous factors. Consider something as simple as what you ate during your last meal. What considerations went into determining why you ate what you did? Think about the region of the world in which you live and what foods are available in that region and at what cost. What are the food traditions of that region and are you following them, bucking them, or adapting them? Were you home or on the go? Were you dining alone or with others? If din- ing with others, were these peers, colleagues, or family members? Who paid for the meal and who prepared it? Did the flavors and preparation methods come from your cultural tradition(s) or others? Were you trying to reach any health goals? Did you have health conditions or food allergies of concern? How were you feeling at the time—adventurous, seeking comfort, happy, sad, celebratory, blasé? Was it a holiday or an ordinary day? Were you in public or private? Were you trying to make a statement with your food? Food is a simple substance necessary for life, but it is also extraordinarily com- plex and an important signifier of individual or group identity. The foods you eat or avoid communicate with what food scholar Annie Hauck-Lawson calls the food voice. If I invite you over for dinner and offer you oysters, champagne, and filet mignon, what is the food saying differently than if I offered you spaghetti and meatballs? And how would the food voice change if the spaghetti were homemade? In this encyclopedia, the challenge is to go beyond the mere description of the foods in order to listen to the food voice—What does eating this food say about the people who are eating it? And what does avoiding this food say? Flip through the book now, and choose a food on which to try asking those questions. What Is Unusual? Some foods, like human flesh, are almost universally rejected and considered weird, gross, deplorable, depraved. Others, like lutefisk, are considered culturally important to some and strange and unappealing to others. And, of course, many foods beloved by you, the reader, whether it is a peanut butter sandwich for lunch or a breakfast of congee with 1,000-year-old egg, may seem weird to others who do not share your personal, family, or cultural tradition.