Food represents a nutrition for both humans and animals. What distinguishes humans, however, from animals is that they ritualize food, extending it beyond the biological need; hence the code of etiquette that governs the appropriateness of eating. Having said that, food practices, across the entire globe, have a symbolic language that can only be deciphered through meticulous analyses, bearing in mind the way an individual behaves towards food per se. In this light, cultural identity plays a crucial role in that it shapes and solidifies the individual’s relationship with food; in other words, it endows meaning to these practices.

An individual’s experience vis-à-vis food differs according to the cultural context. The emergence of culture has, in a sense, distorted the actual biological need and turned it into a practice that has its own guidelines—and which are ought to be respected according to the milieu. In his book Beyond Culture[1], Edward T. Hall categorized cultures into two contexts: High Context Culture and Low Context Culture. By this categorization, Edward T. Hall facilitated cross-cultural studies and communication. In this respect, the aim of such a division is to illustrate the differences between cultures, and to provide a third space wherein cultures can meet without any kind of clash; hence intercultural communication.

In High Context Cultures, collectivism is one of the aspects that marks the social context; that is to say, Moroccans, for instance, appreciate the fact that food should be served in a rounded table—that signifies that everybody at the table is equal in the sense that they all can reach the rounded dish (equidistant). Be that as it may, this ritual consists of having the head of the family—the father—initiating the action of eating.  The point being is that the father, in this case, is an agent who provides the family with nutrition, to satiate not only the biological need, but to practice the ritual with minute devotion. That said, the process of consuming food is by no means passive; rather, it involves a set of rules. For instance, a Moroccan family would not begin to eat unless the members of the family utter “Albasmala”. The food is always served with bread; the latter is a quintessential element in Moroccan food, for it is believed that it stands for hard labor and making a living.

Low context cultures, however, tend to put emphasis on the individual. Take, for instance, an English person. He or she may partake in a family’s gathering, but never does he or she share the same dish with the family members. They would pick from the big dish that is on the center of the table, and then they would put it in a small, private dish. One should not deduce inequality from such a ritual. In fact, an English is the same as a Moroccan in the sense that they both attribute certain myths to food practices; hence reinforcing the roots of their cultural identity. That said, these myths’ purpose is to solidify and preserve these practices.

Consequently, the implications of such formalities—in both contexts—are to be noticed in the automation (or rather instillation) of the individual—inasmuch as the latter becomes familiar with the practices without questioning their genesis. The entirety of these practices are to be classified as one of the pillars of cultures; they strengthen the social position, cultural identity, and the individual’s relationship with food.

[1] Hall, Edward Twitchell. Beyond culture. New York, NY: Anchor , 2003. Print.

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