Monthly Archives: June 2016

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Chapter 3 of Sociology on the Menu, describes three very interesting ways of approaching food.

The first is the functional approach. It describes human society and food according to their functional significance. It shows how each element embodies two functions one which is visible, recognizable while the other is something subtle or ‘latent’.

The structural approach delves deeper and explores the various structures of human society. It says that each rule for example is a language of its own describing the intricacies of the human mind and society. Thus plates of food and how they are prepared show the intricacies of each of their taste and structures.

The developmental approach is more of the evolutionary kind. It shows how change has driven the culinary world to the specialized menus we see today. It shows how dietary restrictions and preferences have enabled formation of menus that cater to every special need.

According to me the functionalist approach describes functionalism in a way that it assigns roles to every element, without which the object or in this case society would not be able to function. Just like that this piece of Lego Architecture is not complete without every piece playing its role or function perfectly.



The structural approach defines the structure of society. It delves beyond the surface and shows the composition of human society, food and culture. It differs from functionalism in the sense that it does not show interrelation but individuality in the societal structure.


The developmental approach is brought about by change. It shows the change in the different eras of time and it is what has brought human society here today. I figured that since the developmental approach caters to the changing needs of human society the best way to describe it was through cars. The manual gear box was being used but as technology improved we wanted something that was more user friendly and thus the automatic gearbox appeared, which is being used today.


Soylent: An Experience Without Food

To begin, there are three main ways to examine the structure of our social relationships with the food. Functionalist thinking looks at how each part of of a system contributes to the system as a whole. These features or their effects on the system may be classified as either manifest, recognized in the community for its contribution, or latent, not recognized or dismissed. In relation with food, functionalism looks at the way we interact with food and how that has shaped our social interactions and cultures.

The next way of thinking is called structuralism. It focuses on the ideas and materials that make up what is being examined. The underlying processes that contribute to the final product is the basis of what is being examined in structuralism. With food, we look at the combination of ingredients, the preparation of meals and how this amalgamation creates social meaning.

Developmentalism examines and compares past forms of operating to current forms. In order to understand why and how things operate as they do today, we must first understand how things were done in the past and how they have changed or adapted to become what they are today.

In order to further examine the functionalist approach to examining food systems I will share a story of how I adopted Soylent and deprived myself of “food” and thus the social integrations that come along with it.

What is Soylent? Soylent is an idea thought up by someone that lived a busy life and wanted to find a way to eliminate all the inconveniences of eating without losing the nutrition we gain from doing so. In order to make this possible, he did research on all the essential macro and micronutrients and vitamins that our bodies need at the base level in order for us to go about our day. He came up with a list of ingredients that he thought would fulfill this recipe for that which would be just enough to fuel us during a regular day. With trial and error, he finalized his recipe and started a Kickstarter campaign to share his product with the masses.

I ran across his campaign early on and put in a preorder for his product, called Soylent. Perhaps I was crazy at the time, but I thought it was an interesting idea and definitely worth trying. Months later, I received a box at the door. Upon opening it, I saw bags full of some sort of powder. My Soylent had finally arrived! Now I wouldn’t have to spend time and money buying or preparing food. All I had to do was mix a measured amount of powder in a bottle, add water, drink, and repeat this two more times during the day. It didn’t taste that good, but the convenience and economy factors were enough to make it worthwhile for me.

After a few days of my trial, I found myself yearning for a bite of real food. I craved for my taste buds to hit a different note. More than this, I desired more social interaction. By depriving myself of “food,” I began to realize how much of a social event eating food is. Besides acting as a vehicle for nutrition, food brings us together. Eating is usually done in communion and even if it isn’t, the food that is being consumed was prepared by someone, and the process of eating their preparation is a social interaction in itself.

Throughout my trial with Soylent, I was further able to understand and appreciate food as a social instrument. Looking at it from a functionalist approach, I am able to understand how food(or lack of) contributes to our social functioning as a society. This experience helped me to understand the social constructs of food. It brings us together. Food is not just a bundle of nutrients that we eat in different forms. It also acts as a device that fosters interaction. We wouldn’t be able to survive without it, but more importantly, in its absence, we wouldn’t live up to what defines us as humans, our social interaction.

Approaches to Food Studies

When looking at the sociological perspectives towards studying food and food systems, there are three main ideas:

Functionalist: Functionalism takes a holistic view of society, in that it has many different, separate institutions that form a cohesive unit and thus its properties arise from the relationships between these institutions. Furthermore, functionalism analyzes these institutions to describe their functional significance and potential to contribute to society.

Structuralist: Structuralism looks past the “surface” relationships and seeks to articulate the “deep structures” that lie under the surface. It asserts that these “deep structures” are underlying, unchanging patterns that govern our surface relationships and by understanding them, we can understand the surface features of society better.

Developmental: The developmental approach claims that to understand contemporary cultural or social relations, the way they relate to past relations must be taken into account. Social change is a primary focus for this approach, as it informs the direction and origin of the arrival to the contemporary societal state.

Structuralism has a clear distinction between what lies on the surface and the patterns that inform that; a Rubik’s Cube is like structuralism in that on the surface you have many individual pieces that need to come together, and to achieve this you apply a certain pattern (algorithm) that governs how to move the cube. Much like the algorithm for the Rubik’s Cube was studied in order to figure out how to arrange the pieces, structuralism seeks to study the deep patterns that dictate the surface cultural forms that arise.


Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating

According to Mennell, Murcott, and Van Otterloo the three main headings food can be classified under are functionalism, structuralism, and developmentalism. This slightly differs from Goody’s initial characterization of the approaches, which included cultural in lieu of developmentalism. The cultural concept is fundamentally found in each of the aforementioned approaches prompting its exclusion.

The Functionalist approach surfaces around the notion of society being made up of several sets of institutions that contribute to the cohesion of a social system, analogous to a living body. Functionalism core is to decipher a social system’s functional significance. Whether it falls under a manifest function or latent function is determined by its deliberateness. Under functionalism, the system is vulnerable to being disrupted by dysfunctional features. However, the primary functionality of a system centers around a mutual obligation and interdependence of the group. Further searching for a way in which a coherent whole can be formed from facets of the system gelling well together. Focus is held on the practicalities behind producing, allocating, and consuming food.

The structuralism approach conveys a deeper structure of food, which form the basis for the system. Inner discovery of thought and mind is analyzed to learn the reasoning for eating. Further probing into the meaning behind the act of cooking and the meal as a social event. There is a universal relation between certain patterns within groups. However, each group carries a uniqueness in their rules and conventions that they use to classify their food into a specific item or category. Structuralism evokes a cultural transformation of deep-seated unchanged relationships underlying the surface changes.

With regards to the developmental approach, it embodies traits of the former two approaches mentioned. Developmentalism represent both an explicit viewpoint and an overall cohesive body. It examines past systems to make sense of current cultural patterns. The beginning point and then the process of social change are important features of this approach.

The beginnings of the sugar industry is an example of a society’s functional subsystems changing. Initially, the sugar trade occurred in a small society, being locally produced and consumed by planters. Once European powers colonized the Caribbean region it opened the industry up to the world. The Caribbean became integrated with the world’s economy, causing interdependence of its native with outsiders. A change occurred to sugar production, distribution, and coordination. New institutions, such as the plantation, emerged fundamentally changing the sugar trade for decades to come. Sugar was a commodity that transformed the Caribbean industry to a capitalistic market-based economy. This became the beginning of a society that would adopt new features of modern-day functionalism.


Sugar Production Flowsheet

Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating

The functionalist approach seems to explore how already existing institutions interact and integrate with each other to create a coherent whole.

The structuralist approach delves deeper than what is just on the surface and attempts to recognize the symbols and influence. There are certain rules that explain why some food cultures are the way they are.

The developmental approach is explained as the continuous change of food. The past and present are collectively taken into account to understand what has developed.


In biology class, the first lecture always starts with the levels of organization in organisms. Many atoms make up a molecule which then make up a cell and then a tissue. A collection of tissues makes up an organ and the group of organs make an organ system. The function and process of the organ system make up an organism. Like the levels of cell organization, the functionalist perspective examines how food “structures” are integrated into a complex system and function as one unit. We understand that the organism is built from these smaller subunits working together, but do not explore deeper into each individual level.


In psychology, bottom-up processing is using stimuli to influence our perceptions. In the structuralist approach, it is the underlying meaning and symbolism that is observed. Instead of just scratching the surface, the principles that create society are carefully “investigated.” From a superficial level, one only sees black and white spots canvasing a blank space. However, by processing the visual stimulus presented, one will see a dog sniffing the ground. By digging deeper into the behavior and thoughts, we are able to better understand the foundation of what these systems are built on.


The developmental approach takes into account past social and cultural forms to explain and “change” the present. If we turn to simple evolution, we see the progression of mankind, both physically and mentally. Biologically and psychologically, humans are explained by the adaptation and growth in past societal and cultural relationships. Past and present values of food have interchangeably defined the standards of the food system. While at times, the values may be redefined, sometimes the existing ones are rooted from history.

The food system can be explained by describing five main stages – production, distribution, preparation, consumption, and disposal. The food system is mainly viewed societally with farms, markets, and restaurants as the main methods of carrying out each process. However, while reading about the different phases, it made me think about how my personal experience related to the system in a smaller application.

Growing up, the vegetables and herbs at the dinner table always came from the backyard. My mother, even to this day, grew many plants to feed us fresh produce and also taught us how to care for them. Though they were not sold to local markets or people, she would let friends and neighbors in our garden to pick 6their own vegetables and shared seeds with them. While she started preparing dinner, my mother would send me to pick out ingredients and cooked delicious meals. The leftover scraps were used as fertilizer and mixed into the ground to help continue their growth. The food system shows a never-ending cycle in this personal context and through this, I had the opportunity to appreciate each process as I acquired the knowledge and experience through my family garden.


Every year, in the Korean culture, the first day of the Korean lunar year is celebrated. One of the festivities is making dumplings from scratch. Mothers would mix flour to make the peels and the daughters would make the stuffing mixed with minced meat, glass noodles, chives, and many other vegetables. It was a collaborative family affair where laughter and tradition was shared. There were even tales about those who made pretty-looking dumplings would bear beautiful children. The functionalist approach defines the integration of many systems to come to a definite goal. It does not take just one person to prepare all of the dumplings for a celebration, but everyone in the household to contribute. Under the developmental approach, it is revealed that dumpling-making has faded. With dumplings being sold in markets, the tradition of making them from scratch have been replaced with frozen products.

By exploring the sociological perspective of food, many social relationships are uncovered, whether it is within a family or in the economy. If we understand the broad generalization on the surface, we can probe deeper and understand the foundation on what the beliefs were based on. On the other hand, by recognizing the smaller units and integration of such principles, we are able to form a bigger picture. However, not everything is set in stone. Nothing is static and social change is always a lingering factor when approaching these different perspectives.

Blog Entry #1: Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating

Zeyu Zhong

As the authors of Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating comprehensively have suggested that diverse dimensions and perspectives are such outstanding ways to help us understand the importance and principles of food system, we will acquire excellent knowledge of biological and social meaning and significance of food in this certain chapter. The authors first analyze the biological meaning by claiming the necessity of absorbing routine food as one important source of energy consumption, and then smoothly switch to the cultural and social aspects. They argue that during the process of socialization, process of consuming food brings us the social differentiation as well as individual identity and transmission of culture. Then by combining two schemes of two classifications, the authors finally introduce functionalist, structuralist and developmentalist as three main theories to discuss.

— The functionalist approach:  The functionalist view, as the authors introduce, is based upon an analogy between human society and organic system. They profess that the components of a society can be interrelated and interplayed by each other and form an integrity as a complete society. Moreover, functionalist pays much attention to the functional significance of the institutions in order to study the important function of them. Although criticism contends that functionalist put excessive emphasis on the static aspects of society and claims that functionalist is outdated, it will not be wise to erase the contribution and basic principles made by the functionalist.

— The structuralist approach: The structuralist view, unlike the functionalist who tend to study on the comprehensive function of society, is willing to puncture the surface and have a deeper understanding. They tend to analyze people’s social behavior and mind through the anthropological material and data in order to form a certain and evident pattern. Thus, they put their efforts on rules and conventions of contracting the food system. It is not surprising that criticism finds ways to attack some drawbacks of structuralist, but we cannot deny the brilliant contribution such as the metaphor of communication and the searching for deeper thoughts of the society.

— The developmentalist approach: Different from the two approaches above, developmentalist give a unique perspective to study the society. Developmentalist tends to analyze the components of society in a dynamic way. That is, they will drag the events of the past into the discussion and try to understand the change of society. In other words, they regard the conflicts with the society as an important aspect of the analysis. Developmentalist view contributes a lot to the sociological study, and some splendid scholar such as Harris has even created wonderful analysis to the aspects of eating and food system.


The picture above clearly illustrates the main principal of functionalism, which is probably the foundation and predecessor of the other two theories. From the view of functionalists, human’s brain can be seen as analogy to a working machine. Different individual parts working together creates the functional machine, or brain. By successful cooperating, the integrity can generate collective power. The graph of the computer in the picture suggests that the principal of operating a computer is similar to the operation of brain of human.

From the reading, it is unimaginable that the food system has influenced myriad aspects of our history and culture. But deliberately consider the time and efforts we have spent on food, it is not hard to conclude the importance of food. We might spend almost 3 hours, about 1/8 of a day, on breakfast, lunch and dinner, if we ignore the extra time that we spend on snacks or others. Moreover, as what author has suggested, food gives us a kind of memory or feeling that well supports our sense of culture. For example, little special snack from our hometown can remind us the memory of our hometown or even of our childhood. Besides, as a good aspect of cultural commutation, sharing and discussion of food are good ways to make people from two different civilization friends. Thus, from both the content of the book and from our daily commonsense, we can determine the importance of food and significance of the study of food.

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Domain Entry #1 : Sociology of the menu

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The chapter “Sociological Perspectives on Food and Eating” of Sociology of the menu starts off with educating the reader about the health oriented and taste oriented significance of food. However, the main emphasis of this chapter is the Goody’s three approaches that connect and theorize food with the various environmental and social dynamics prevailing in the society as a whole:-

  • The functionalist approach – This approach says that a functioning object, human or machine is only able to function because of the parts or pieces that are put together to make it function. For example, the human body is fully functional because of the various organs that are present inside. Similarly, the society functions because of the various institutions inside it.
  • The structuralist approach – Structuralism is different from functionalism because it attempts to look deeper than just surface connections. For example, classification of food is not just based on whether or not the food is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. There are also several rules and conventions that could classify food. While beef might me deemed inedible in Hinduism, it is a well-relished meat in other religions.
  • The developmentalist approach – This approach puts emphasis on analysing social change and how this social change provides diverse menus catering different dietary needs of human beings. For example, Mintz demonstrated that sugar consumption increased dramatically because of political and economic processes acting at a global level.

If these approaches were to be explained using an example other than food, they could be defined in the following ways:-

  • Functionalism emphasizes on how something big can be broken down into smaller bits. These bits are what make the bigger picture. For example, If you look at a Jigsaw puzzle, there are many smaller puzzle pieces that are attached to one another to get the puzzle to look like a coherent picture.

Puzzle picture

  • Structuralism, as mentioned before, examines many linkages between various things. These linkages are not necessarily obvious to the usual observer’s eye. In the chapter, Mary Douglas says that food can be seen as a code and the messages that it encodes are messages about social events and about social relations. The point here is that an item like food can hold a linkage or a relation to social events and food. To explain this in an Alternate way, let’s look at the job hierarchy.

job chart

With the help of this hierarchy, we can examine that although all of these job positions and workers who work together make up a good restaurant, each of these positions has a linkage to the economic and social status of each worker. These external linkages are in fact the deeper linkages that a structuralist tries to emphasize on. The owner of a restaurant may have a decent economic status and can portray himself as the owner of a successful restaurant. However, the Steward or the Lead server will probably have a very different economic and social standing.

  • Change is what drives Developmentalism. The reading mentions that over time, Individuals develop internal constraints as compared to external ones. These change in constraints have lead to development of menus catering to special needs of people. Convenience menus contain food that takes less preparation time, Economic menus contain food with low costs etc. for an alternate way of explaining this, We can see the shift from petrol to electricity as a fuel source.


Develpoing conerns overtime for the protection of Earth’s environment and atmosphere have lead to a shift from Gasoline cars to Electric cars. This approach can be classifed as a developmental approach.



Chapter 3 of Sociology on the Menu presents various approaches to analyzing food systems from a socio-anthropological perspective. At a rudimentary level, Beardsworth and Keil define a food system as the complicated set of relationships between human beings and plants and animal. With respect to any given food system, Goody espouses 5 core processes, which include the growing of food or rearing of livestock, the allocation and storage of food, the cooking of food, the consumption of food, and lastly the disposal process.

In order to assess these 5 processes across varying cultures, Woodsworth and Keil state that a functionalist approach, a structuralist approach, and a developmental approach may be employed. The first approach, functionalism, is founded upon the analogies that can be drawn between society and an organic system like a living body. Analogous to a specialized combination of interrelated organs within a human body, society is composed of many features, including social and physical institutions that contribute to its overall functionality. This approach is beneficial because functionalist theory distinguishes between the intended or explicit function of an institution, and the resulting or implied function of said institution.

The second approach featured by Woodsworth and Keil is the structuralist approach. This method aims to understand the structural underpinnings of the sociological institutions that govern the cultural norms of a given society. To that end, structuralism controls the ways in which foods are classified, prepared and integrated. In this way, structuralism analyzes the human thought process. This approach therefore assumes that seemingly superficial rules of cuisine are indicative of underlying structures.

The third anthropological tool for analyzing the processes of a food system is perhaps the most comprehensive. The developmental approach, characterized by Keil and Woodsworth as a “residual” and all-encompassing category, focuses on the directionality of social change, as well as its processes and origins. In this way, developmentalism puts greater emphasis on the individual; eating patterns become more dictated by internal constraints rather than external ones. A good example of this is in the movie Big Night towards the beginning. The customer’s individual desires, and ‘internal’ eating patterns supersede the external norms of Italian dining. With respect to Italian cuisine, the social and culinary norms are violated when the customer blasphemously asks for a side of spaghetti with her risotto. This excess of starch is metaphorically inedible in Italian culture with respect to page 51 of the Keil and Beardsworth reading. Regardless, Stanley Tucci’s character and his primo concede to the customer’s order, which reflects the developmental transition towards individual social eating patterns.

I would argue that our “nutritional versatility” as omnivores, in conjunction with the expanding globalization that connects all cultures, has contributed to a paradigmatic, social shift in the way consumers prioritize the various ‘menus’ mentioned in the section on developmental approaches to anthropological inquiry in the assigned reading. In order to better understand the developmental approach, I have organized the ‘menus’ into a hierarchical chart, which demonstrates the social shift in eating patterns and consumer values. I feel that this represents the way consumers have changed in the way they exercise their individual eating patterns. This helps me better understand the developmental approach, and serves as a framework that I can apply to future study of the culinary traditions of various cultures. I feel that tradition, personal taste, and purpose used to be equal in their influence on eating patterns, with convenience and ethical concerns being the least influential. Today, I feel as though gustatory desires predominate, with tradition falling to a lesser importance.

Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 9.19.28 PM

Traditional menus: draws food choices and combinations from customary practice

Rational menus: selection criteria are designed explicitly to achieve some specific goal

Convenience menus: minimization of time and effort required for acquiring, preparing, and presenting food

Economy menus: prime consideration is food costs

Hedonistic menus: based primarily on maximizing gustatory pleasure

Moral Menus: food selections are derived from ethical considerations