Food Consumption and Cultural Awareness: An Anthropological Case Study of Consumer Behavior at a Chinese Restaurant Kelly Tian University of Chicago Robert G. Tian Medaille College
The United States is a multicultural nation consisting of many people from different nations with various ethnic backgrounds and multiple worldviews. One of the ways people of different backgrounds manifest their cultural values is via the consumption of food at various food service sites. Food consumption is a basic biological need; it is a fundamental behavior of human beings. However, it is suggested here that in addition to the primary purposes of eating to satisfy hunger and provide nourishment, food consumption also reveals differences among cultures, which can sometimes dictate or at least influence what people eat, as well as the manner in which they eat. This paper presents an observational study from an anthropological perspective of consumer behavior at an ethnic restaurant. The findings suggest that such a restaurant serves not only to satisfy biological needs, but also plays other roles in society. It also functions as a source of cultural information and as a social outlet. The authors will explore and present conclusions based on the cultural awareness and sensitivity of patrons of the restaurant in this case study. INTRODUCTION The consumption of food is a universal biological behavior shared by all humans, regardless of background. Though food as a means to satisfy a human need is the same no matter where, food and culture are interrelated. Using food, people of various ethnic backgrounds can engage in socialization with others. Ethnic restaurants serve as prime natural environments to observe the various decisions consumers make. Consumers' decision-making processes can vary according to different cultural backgrounds (Perner, 2010; Miller, 2009). Some of the most important components of culture include consumption habits of food and patterns of consumption, which make a significant contribution to decisions consumers make concerning food consumption (Mills, 2000; Tian and Wang, 2010; Wood and Muñoz, 2007). An individual’s cultural background shapes what he or she eats, the manner in which the food is consumed, when it is appropriate to eat, and the significance of the food being consumed (Miller, 2009). Thus, behavioral patterns in ethnic restaurants comprise an important area of study for those interested in conducting research in the field of consumer behavior (George, 2001; Sriwongrat, 2008; Tian, 2001). Anthropologist Margaret Mead, one of the pilot scholars and researchers of the relationship between food and cultures, indicates, “Food habits are seen as the culturally standardized set of behaviors in regard to food manifested by individuals who have been reared within a given cultural tradition. These behaviors
Journal of Marketing Development and Competitiveness vol. 5(4) 2011
are seen as systematically interrelated with other standardized behaviors in the same culture.” (Mead, 1943:21). According to Mead, the manner in which food is prepared, handled, and consumed reflects upon the entire culture from which the individual comes. Not only is there great variability in food consumption; there is even an infinite amount of variability. This variability results from differences in cultures, and it is precisely these variations and differences in consumers' cultures that make studying human consumption worthwhile and meaningful. Though food primarily functions as a form of quenching hunger and supplying nourishment, it can also serve as a means of promoting family unity when members eat together. It also functions to denote ethnic, regional, and national identity. Food can be utilized in many situations, ranging from social gatherings, to the development of friendships, or to assert influence upon others' behaviors. Anthropologists frequently incorporate observations of food habits as an important, at times...
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