Ethnography of a Meal-- Food, Identity and Time
Is there a correlation between food categories and social categories?
This essay seeks to critically evaluate Delaney's (2010: 259) assertion that "food categories also correlate with social categories." In order to evaluate this claim, it is therefore necessary to explain what it means. In addition, the evaluation of this claim, in an anthropological context, needs be conducted through the research method of an ethnography of a meal. My argument will use the ethnographic experience of a Shabbat meal with David Horowitz's family to assess this assertion and whether it could be applied and verified through the interactions which occurred around food at this meal.
Furthermore, I will demonstrate through this ethnography that I found this claim to be true in this context. Thus my essay will explore how a Shabbat meal and the food elements within it are all food categories which correlate to the social category of identity. Identity, in this ethnography, will relate to both a religious and familial identity. These aspects of food and a religious and familial identity will also demonstrate a close tie to the anthropological concept of time. Time, in relation to these aspects is thus religious and family time. As a result, this argument seeks to portray how Jewish religious observance of the Holy Sabbath meal presents a solution to the problem that modern Western society is increasingly faced to wit: the disappearance of family time, with a specific reference to the family meal.
With reference to the statement that "food categories also correlate with social categories" (Delaney 2010: 259); categories are classifications and ways of organising things into sets. For example in South Africa we put the two events of a Braai and a dinner into two different categories. We know that the way we behave at a braai is much more informal than the way we behave at a dinner. Also, the foods we eat at these events differ from one other- for example boerewors compared to a carefully prepared vegetable bake. So at a braai, the food category of boerewors might make it okay for us to eat with our hands. Thus, behaviour falls into what is considered a social category. Basically this example seeks to show that Delaney's (2010:259) argument explores the idea that according to the different foods we eat we may behave differently or choose to assert a particular identity at a particular time.
Delaney (2010) and other anthropologists have looked at this relationship between food and social interactions because they want to show that food involves more than just nutrition. It involves complex parts of social interaction. An anthropological argument is that because social ties are intangible, we can use the tangible category of food to analyse social interactions. Thus let us now explore my own experience of the correlation between food and social categories at the Horowitz's Shabbat meal.
Worship, religion and family-time. These concepts, which were an integral part of the Horowitz's family identity, were demonstrated to me through their interrelationship with food, which was, in this case, my experience of a Shabbat meal- the Jewish Friday night meal celebrated at the start of the Sabbath. The Shabbat meal is generally referred to as just "Shabbat" by Jewish people. So to make things clear, I will talk of the "Sabbath" to distinguish between actual Holy Day and the meal, Shabbat. My experience of Shabbat was that it had close links to the concepts of religion, worship and family-time. For me, these links illuminated Delaney's (2010: 259) argument that there is a correlation between food and social categories: the foods eaten at Shabbat, ranging from a sweet red wine, to soft warm calla (also known as kitka) carried religious and familial symbolism; reflecting how food and a set meal time can actually shape identity in addition to creating TIME, in this case, time for...
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