As I mentioned in my very first post on this blog, culture is not borne within you. It’s not part of your DNA.
Culture is learned.
This month, we’ll be talking more about the cultural learning process.
But first, to illustrate the fact that culture is learned, I’d like to take a quick look at food.
Why is food so important to culture?
According to an article by Anne Murcott of the Department of Sociology at the University College Cardiff, entitled “The cultural significance of food and eating”:
People eat in a socially organized fashion. There are definite ideas about good and bad table-manners, right and wrong ways to present dishes, clear understandings about food appropriate to different occasions.
And all of this is learned.
Tastes & Diets
Not only are our food customs learned, so are our tastes.
If you’ve never experienced another culture’s food habits, customs, and dishes, then you may not know what your natural instinct might be to, say, China’s deep-fried scorpions.
Stefan Gates knows. The BBC journalist travels the world, taste-testing diverse cultural menus. When you watch his series, Cooking in the Danger Zone, you can see just how different the tastes of various cultures are and, in turn, to what degree your own cultural identity determines your food preferences…especially when it comes to which foods you might find repulsive.
When you see this
does your mouth water, or does your stomach turn?
It’s fairly common for a European to grimace, while someone from an Asian country, where the snack is fairly common, wouldn’t bat an eye. In fact, they’d probably be keen on having a bite of scorpion.
This visceral reaction shows that culture is learned. Our bodies, our gag reflexes, are responding to what our culture has taught us is right and wrong to eat.
And with food cultural, it’s not only our diets that are learned.
What time of day do you eat? How do you prepare your meals? Where do you get your food – from a shop, outdoor market, or your own backyard?
Cultural food customs are many, and they’re all learned.
The preparation and consumption of food provides, moreover, a material means for expressing the more abstract significance of social systems and cultural values. It may be argued that what people are prepared to take inside their bodies reflects their social identities, and their membership of social groups. To view eating habits as a matter of culture is to understand that they are a product of codes of conduct and the structure of social relationships of the society in which they occur.
This is why, when you’re taking action to integrate into a culture, sharing food is one of the most important ways to do so.
And this is also why you can integrate into any culture: because culture is learned, and once you realize that, you can start to learn any culture to which you wish to become a part.
Tune in next week to learn more about how human beings learn culture.