Food: An Important Part of Any Culture

EDDIE J. MCCOVEN
Guest Writer

Whether you will study away next term or have some extended travel time after graduation, make sure you prepare for “Food Culture Shock.”

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Anthropology professor Heather Hallman spoke about the importance of food culture while abroad. “How you eat can have a lot to do with how you get along with others,” she said.

In a presentation Monday evening, junior Maylen Anthony and visiting professor of anthropology Heather Hallman talked about what to expect and what to plan for when it comes to food in other cultures.

“Food is just as much of a ‘must do’ as the tourist sites of the city you’re in,” Anthony said. “It can be an easy way to connect with the locals.”

Fast food and American “comfort food” can be found in some restaurants abroad, but most establishments have a very limited menu, and one that will often reflect the generations of meal traditions of that culture, including some choices we might find strange or bizarre.

“Some foods we find taboo,” Hallman said. “Animals that hold special significance for us are important to others as a food source.”

Popular “taboo” dishes include dog and snake in China, raw horse in Japan, and fried guinea pigs in some Latin American countries. While being “adventurous” when it comes to food choices isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you can visit a local grocery store and find food choices similar to that you would make at home. Doing your own cooking while abroad can be healthier and cheaper.

Being aware of set table manners in the culture you are visiting is also very important.

“How you eat can have a lot to do with how you get along with others,” Hallman said. “In Japan, you keep your napkin or towel on the table, and its impolite to have your hands below the table, and its true in other cultures too.”

Alcohol consumption is also something to consider. In Japan, for example, saké is drunk at the beginning of both formal and informal events or functions, and after saké, guests can move onto beer.

Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom, drinking alcohol alone and drinking alcohol with the absence of food is frowned upon in many cultures. Alcohol is often treated as a social beverage to go along with dinner, or at the very least, appetizers.

If you’re a picky eater, or have dietary restrictions, make sure to pack something to take with you because you may not have access to certain foods abroad. Make sure to research the food choices and options of the culture you will be immersing yourself in.

If you are staying with a host family, they can be a great resource on what to try, where you can eat out, and where you can buy your own food to prepare.

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