Food and Culture Review

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Anna French: Review of Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (eds) Food and Culture, A Reader (Routledge, 1997) 432 pp, £21.99 (pb) ISBN: 0415917107

Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik’s Food and Culture is an excellent collection of articles surveying the interrelated themes of food, society and culture. The book aims to provide an introduction to the much neglected topic of ‘food’, and to place it into various academic narratives, by relating the topic to a range of broad themes and definitions. The book contains 28 previously published articles, written by scholars working in a wide range of fields, including biology, psychology, cultural anthropology and history. The text is divided into four sections: ‘Food, Meaning and Voice’, considering materialist and cultural explanations of food; ‘Commensality and Fasting’, looking at how humans give, receive and refuse food as an articulation of social relationships; ‘Food, Body and Culture’, focusing on the relationship between women, food and bodies; and finally ‘The Political Economy of Food’, considering the link between food, social hierarchy and power.

Previous reviews of the Reader have tended to focus on the scientific aspects of the collection. However, approaching the work from an historical perspective, the collection has much to contribute to scholars working on the history of culture, religion, gender, emotion and the body. The book opens with a Foreword quoting words from M.F.K Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me; “So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it…There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?” Indeed, this central concern, relating the theme of food to the personal emotion, cultural expression and social or political values remains inherent throughout the book.

Jean Soler’s article, ‘The Semiotics of...
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