Food is a basic requirement of life just like habitat and breathing. In addition to being a source of nutrition, it has much more significance for individuals and society-it is intertwined with the social life. Food and nutrition are greatly determined by power, thus they significantly manifest and exert power, evaluate and generate power among individuals (James, 1990a: 34). Some disadvantaged groups like the disabled the elderly and even the mentally ill suffer from a lack of this important amenity thus fail to exert power (James, 1990b: 47). Therefore, food is an essential part of the way that any society organizes itself and of the way it views the world and its inhabitants. Social relations can be revealed through food since it generates relations between all categories. It further displays the differences between genders relating to its cooking skills, for instance between women and men, and is a mark of social relations (Hirvi, 2016: 23). Anthropologists and sociologists have taken an interest in food understandings.
Research has shown that people most likely feel happier and contented with their lives when they share meals. Research from the University of Oxford showed that satisfaction with one’s life is related to eating with others. They used data from a national survey done by The Big Lunch, where the people carrying out the research checked the interrelation between happiness and social eating, their connection with the community, how many friends they have, and the general contentment with life. The research outcome showed that eating together increases social bonding and mental health and enhances integration within the community. The people have a wide social network capable of providing emotional and social support. From the study, 76 percent of those in question stated that sharing a meal was a nice way of bringing people together (Hirvi, 2016: 24). The survey also reported that most people in the UK take meals alone. Ten out of twenty-one meals in a week are eaten alone by adults. It is a result of people being very busy and tedious schedules.
Additionally, from all the participants interviewed, 69 percent stated that they had never had a meal together with their neighbors and 37 percent stated that they had never gotten a chance to have a meal with the community (Hirvi, 2016: 25). Similarly, the study showed that even for those who live with their families, it is difficult to have a meal 21 percent revealed that they have their evening meals at varied periods with other family members (Hirvi, 2016: 34). Therefore, this study shows that community bonds can be enforced by sharing meals. It also deals with physical and mental illnesses.
There are various ways by which sharing meals establish social relations. The first one is through showing support to the poor and preventing them from experiencing nutritional deficiencies. It has drifted the concept to space for education on matters of formal food (Geertz, 1960: 33). Schools also play an important space where cultural and social food practices are observed. They shape what pupils more so adolescents choose to consume during their time in school.
Sharing of meals is a concept that the Chinese value. This finding, apart from confirming food as a marker of social concepts, also provides insight into the concepts of collectivism, group harmony, and commensality. The evidence to this is illustrated in China by a report which recorded that compliance by grandparents and parental compromise is a way of acquiring family equilibrium (James, 1990c: 76). Other findings show that there is evidence of tensions between parents and grandparents concerning their children’s diet, eating behaviors, weight, and table manners.
These grandparents have stated that these children should be given ‘treats’ and ‘spoilt.’ This has created a great bond with their grandchildren. Children also use food to express emotions, manage and foster a relationship. Moreover, eating and drinking on social occasions are often used to foster and negotiate social ties, reinforce a sense of belonging and draw group boundaries (Bloch, 1999: 140). Nowadays, many people share pictures of food on their social media platforms. It goes beyond the food experience, but it also opens the door to people sharing their experience and their lives in general (Bloch, 1999: 148). It sends information about who they are. For example, when one posts a photo with friends at an expensive restaurant, people will conclude that they are rich or they like spending money.
Social media has therefore brought food as a concept of social relationships to a whole new level. Therefore, people should be keen on what they post as some posts may promote bad cultures and bad eating habits (Cooper, 1986: 182). Individuals are definitely what they eat, and therefore we should consume and promote by posting the good meals. Moreover, considering cultures, people travel over and beyond to experience various world food cultures. Some immigrants find their positions in a new environment or society through food (Klein, 2008: 120). In fact, in many countries, you would find joints of particular food cultures where people from these cultures converge share and experience their cultural foods.
Food is also tied to rituals and religions as some religions, such as Hinduism, the members do not eat meat, especially cow’s meat, as they are said to be sacred as the belief unites all of them. Thus food can bring about a sense of belonging and community because religions are mostly based on these two concepts (Staples, 2016: 74). Habits can also be derived from sharing meals, for example, finishing one’s food on the plate may be interpreted that the hosts did not feed you well while others may be seen as a polite thing to do. Advances may be observed on the dinner table when the former is observed. This is to show that habits can be evaluated by sharing meals. These habits differ with the various cultures.
In conclusion, food is not only food, but has much more significance in the social setting. In as much as it is necessary for providing nutrition to human beings, it results in great connections among friends, family, and the community. The greatest memories people share are the ones in which they shared food. Like I have stated in the above texts, due to sharing of meals they have come to understand gender, how cultures vary, and the beauty of humankind. How they are generous in the manner they take care of the less fortunate in the community. Therefore sharing food and eating together with families should be advocated more. It should become a habit whereby special care to close people and relatives is demonstrated. This practice will cement these relationships of hierarchy and equality.
Bloch, M., 1999. Commensality and poisoning. Social research, pp. 133–149.
Cooper, E., 1986. Chinese table manners: you are how you eat. Human Organization 45, 179–184.
Geertz, C., 1960. The Slametan: communal feast as a ritual. The Religion of Java. Chicago: Universtity of Chicago Press.
Hirvi, L., 2016. Exploring the domestic homes of Sikhs in Finland as a “Cosmos of senses.” Home Cultures 13:1, 23-37.
James, P.S., 1990a. Conformity & Conflict: Reading in Cultural Anthropology. Illinois.
James, P.S., 1990b. Conformity & Conflict: Reading in Cultural Anthropology. Illinois.
James, P.S., 1990c. Conformity & Conflict: Reading in Cultural Anthropology. Illinois.
Klein, J.A., 2008. Afterword: comparing vegetarianisms. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 31, 199–212.
Staples, J., 2016. Food, commensality and caste in South Asia. The handbook of food and anthropology, 74–93.