Category Archives: Blog entry 3

Misunderstood: A Relativistic Analysis of Italian and Taiwanese Cuisine

Slides for Anthropology Project

Our Group Project (Andrew, Lucy, Claire, Angela)

Follow the link to our PowerPoint!

The Art of Participant Observation by Jonathan Brown

As a result of reading the Introduction and Chapter 5 of Eating Culture, I found the fieldwork methods of anthropology to be quite intriguing. The fieldwork method that resonates most with me is the participant observation technique which involves an individual playing the role of an outsider during an observatchaterion of a society other than their own. The goal is to gain insight into how the society runs and to see their viewpoint on things. This technique reminds me so much of the feelings I have had when I first came to Emory. When I first arrived to Emory, I was immediately surrounded by people from different cultures, particularly people who are first and second generation from Asian and African countries. I knew that having cultural relativism would be necessary because I felt like all of the things that I was used to and considered normal would have to become irrelevant when trying to learn about and understand my new peers. I remember being in awe from seeing the different foods that the individuals from other cultures eat and even from conversing with them about various things such as the customs of their native country. What I found to be most significant in observing thesfeaste people is that even though there are a lot of things that they may do differently, such as the things they eat to their topics in conversation, at the end of the day it all boils down to us all wanting the same things in life which is to be loved and to feel apart of something. This concept, which was shaped by Polish social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, stressed that the little things in life are essential in discovering the identity of the social fabrics of communities. Malinowski also believed that even though everyone in a society does their own individual part in order to maximize their way of living, it is also important to note that it is these individual actions that contribute to the society’s well-being as whole. As far as using this fieldwork method in examining the noodle recipe that we have done in groups, I believe it is best to first examine the ingredients. The recipe that my group and I choose was the recipe for ravioli. Some of the ingredients that we found in the recipe included garlic, Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, basil, nutmeg, eggs, etc. An important step in examining this recipe is to first question the choice of ingredients. After reading Chapter 5, I find it quite possible that this particular recipe has various ingredients from various Italians who enjoy making this dish. However, there must be some ingredients that recur over and over again throughout the various ingredient lists, so as a hypothetical fieldworker, I would find it necessary to figure ravioliout which ingredients are vital in making the ravioli (as in what ingredients are needed to make the dish uniquely ravioli) and why. After that, it would also be of importance to decipher the uses of every ingredient added and figure out why certain groups find certain items necessary while others may not. An example could be the uses of the two different cheeses, Parmesan and ricotta. Why are there two cheeses? Which one is more important? Is it possible that one may have a utilitarian purpose while the other is preferred for taste? Another part of the examination is trying to understand why the ravioli is prepared and cooked the way it is. Is the preparation of ravioli prolonged in order for socialization to occur while making it? Which individuals are responsible for making it? I would also study the time of day ravioli is served and even how much is served per person. In this method of fieldwork, the key to learning about different societies and cultures is to question every action and detail not only throughout the cooking process, but during the consumption process as well.

Professor response to Domain entry 3

Dear students,
We were thrilled with your third Domain entries and continue to be impressed with your insights, creativity, and investment in the material.

In this Domain entry you reflected upon the ethnographic fieldwork methods and applied them to your proposed research on the noodle recipes or other food items. We were impressed with your depth of understanding of the methods and your thoughtful probes of foods as “anthropologists”. We particularly enjoyed those entries that included specific information on how you would analyze the noodle recipe (and/or other recipes). For example, Kobe, Claire, and Lucy’s writings provided clear plan for how they would examine the recipes by using participant-observation method. We also appreciated the supporting materials many of you included in your entries, such as drawings, pictures, designs, quotes, poetry, links, and tables. Please check out the “7 Characteristics of Ethnographic Research”, shared by Dania.

Below are some suggestions for future entries.

  1. Please be sure to submit your entries on time on Domain (still missing two entries). If you still have technical difficulties uploading your entries, please let us know as soon as possible.
  2. Please include a meaningful title for your entries and write your names below the titles.
  3. Please read the instructions for each entry before writing them.
  4. When describing how you would use a fieldwork method to examine a food item, please think about the specific goals/aims, i.e., what exact you hope to accomplish? This will serve to guide you in your participatory activities and your methods for analyzing the data.

Thanks again for your great work and your creativity! We are enjoying the class

Our best,

Hong and Christine

My experiences with participant observation (CHN/ITAL190 Cecillia Bae)

In the reading, Gillian Crowther illustrated a term I had heard of in the past, but was not all too familiar with: participant observation. To briefly summarize, Crowther describes participant observation as an outsider watching an insider’s customs and culture, and applying these ideas to his/her own notions of culture in order to draw more general references about society as a whole. The outsider usually finds himself/herself physically participating, whether it be by aiding the insider with everyday tasks such as preparing ingredients, cooking, cleaning, and so forth. This concept was so prevalent in my life as someone who has lived abroad her entire life, and has only viewed brief glimpses of her inherited culture. While I was born in Seoul, Korea, I lived abroad immediately from the age of one, first in Bangkok, Thailand, and then in Jakarta, Indonesia. While I remember very vague memories and experiences from my childhood in Bangkok, I can very clearly recall the culture shock that hit me as an outsider when I first arrived in Jakarta. I still remember the feelings of discomfort and awe upon being introduced to parts Indonesia’s rich culture, especially in regards to its culinary traditions. I was an outsider for the second time in my life, judging various native insiders’ everyday traditions and customs. The first shock I experienced as an outsider was when I was presented with a plate of frog legs. They seemingly resembled chicken drumsticks, but as someone who had only come to understand frogs as vile amphibians, I was not convinced. Watching the people around me eagerly dive in and chew on the legs at first filled me with disbelief, and a little bit of disgust.
Frog legs
Frog legs
In this vein, I was once an outsider, timidly observing the everyday culture of a society I was newly exposed to. However, it’s ironic that for the past 4 years, frog legs have become my favorite dish- and I have morphed into an insider. It’s funny to think that once in my life, the customs and traditions of the Korean culture acted as the standard on which I based what was seemingly normal and what was not. After living in Jakarta for seven years, my mindset, customs, and culinary traditions slowly changed into those of an insider’s. Now, what was once so foreign and strange to me has become my standard with which I judge everything else on. Being an outsider looking into a native Indonesian’s world has caused me to change my entire outlook on what constituted as “normal” customs, culture, and society for me.

Domain Entry 3

The introduction of the book talked about the definition of social anthropology and introduced the concept of ethnographic method. Social anthropology is defined as study of the everyday lives of ordinary people, anywhere, and food is a constant. With the definition of social anthropology, food itself can be analyzed with various perspectives. It is mentioned that “what was deemed to be food, how it was cooked, and who ate together” could be analyzed with social anthropological approach. It was very interesting to connect such analysis to chapter 5, recipes and dishes, because recipes are part of how food is cooked. The introduction was more to teach concepts and explain technical terms to the readers. Thus, the introduction contained numerous new words and definitions of words that anthropologists use. For example, I have not heard of the term, cultural relativism, which is a principle present in the back of social anthropologists’ minds as they do fieldwork, writing, and public engagement. These definitions of words and history of social anthropology were a bit more boring compared to the next reading we had. However, the chapter 5, recipes and dishes, was indeed very interesting. I loved how it started with an example of learning and practicing a recipe that is not even from one’s own culture, because it really showed the cross-cultural aspect of food and how cooking food of another culture can be more powerful than going to a class to learn about other cultures. In the reading, I also loved the term cultural artifact, which means food of distinct culture in the reading. The reading especially emphasized the aesthetic aspect of cultural artifact, because it is all about style and image of food. When talking about style of food, colors, textures, and shapes must be included, because these three components consist the image, either illustrated or imagined, of the food. The author suggests Japanese cuisine as an example of the best aesthetic cuisine, because Japanese people put extreme effort on plating dishes. The next concept the author talked about was classic dishes. The author mentioned five classical cuisines: Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Mexican, and Indian, and I was very surprised that Chinese and European, such as French and Italian, were not mentioned in the reading. However, I was not surprised at all about absence of American cuisine, because the United States is a country that has the most diverse population. Thus, most of American cuisines are derived from different cuisines; American cuisines are indeed cross-cultural. Since more and more people seek for food from different culture nowadays, the author defined recipes as meaning of reproduction, so that people from other cultures can cook the food of certain culture. I really liked author’s new definition of recipes, because recipes help people not only cook food, but also to produce cultural artifacts. And the most perfect example is happening right here at Emory; there are more and more other, especially Asian, cuisines seen at Emory. As an Asian, it is very strange to watch people getting Korean food and chicken masala so casually, as it is just part of their daily life. However, now I think it as very exciting and pleasant to watch people getting more choices on their diet.

Ethnographic Approaches (among other thoughts) (Rhea Nair ITAL190)

This week’s readings were particularly interesting to me, not because they included descriptions of recipes and traditions in India, but more so because some ideas I find personally significant were discussed. Before answering how I’d approach examining pasta recipes in Italy, I’d like to go over a few ideas that really stuck with me.   That food’s simple significance is often overlooked.   “Humans don’t just randomly feed; we select, fashion, concoct, and make an edible assemblage that fits our imagining of food… an intimate relationship with an artifact, like no other; food is the only consumed cultural artifact that quite literally becomes us.”   That gaps exist and resolving these gaps matter.   “…gaps between what people say they do, the ideal constructs of their culture, and how this knowledge and understanding is put into practice-the messy, lived reality of culture.”   Recipes   While recipes are ethnically marked, and allow for cross cultural learning, the idea of authenticity still remains in a gray area, because ethnicity allows for creativity and room for personalization, an idea that lies at the very heart of what all humans, regardless of culture and background, consider good food.   Cultural relativism   “suspension of judgment” “objectivity” “observer’s biases”   I remember my father saying there was no point in taking us (my sister and me) around the world if we weren’t able to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes around us, if we weren’t able to appreciate the culture of wherever we were traveling to.   An eleven-year-old me tried to grasp at the idea of food being central to culture, to unfamiliar foods being worthy of being explored, while at the same time holding back tears due to what I considered personally offending. That visit to Rome and Florence is now blurry, but I will never forget my father’s annoyance and how it changed my views and behavior.   Cultural Appropriation – Culinary Appropriation   I smiled while reading the introduction to Chapter 5, as I could already hear the voices of both my grandmothers, shake their heads at the idea of chicken tikka masala being considered British. Their opinion would resonate with almost every Indian of their generation; it’s safe to say it would resonate with a large number of Indians in general. According to them, chicken tikka masala, is and forever will be solely Indian. What I find amusing is that Chicken Tikka Masala didn’t ever hold a place in either of my grandmas’ families. What Appadurai identified was this idea. Neither of my grandmother’s subcultures have anything to do with Chicken Tikka Masala, which is essentially a dish that originated from Punjab, in the northern region of India and perhaps even has traces from the Mughal Rule in those regions.   If I were to ask either of them if they identified with Chicken Tikka Masala, they’d shrug, but if I had told them that the British did, I’m certain I’d see a change in how much the dish means to them. Finally, to answer the question this post seeks to answer, If I were asked to study the recipe for pasta from an anthropological perspective, after the readings, I am quite certain about the approach I’d use. I’d rely on ethnographic methods of participant-observation and interviews, but the manner, and most importantly, order in which I’d carry out my fieldwork is what I find particularly important.   I’d first make sure to conduct informal interviews in participant’s homes, and knowing the vastness and significance of subcultures in India and the parallels in Italy, I’d try to interview a number of people from a number of different regions.   The reasoning behind conducting interviews first is to allow for my biases and pre-conceived notions of what I previously had knowledge or opinion of to be wiped away. The interviews would give me an insider perspective, which I could use while observing the cooking and eating rituals. In other words, the interviews would re-align my mind and eyes and rid me of the the nagging judgment any outsider has, regardless of whether their preconceived notions of a particular culture are positive of negative.

Not Einstein’s Theory on Relativity (Angela Jiang, CHN 190)

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”

— Albert Einstein


Although I have a Singaporean mother and a Taiwanese father, one of the first culinary traditions that come to mind upon pondering this week’s entry was a tradition that didn’t relate to my ethnicity whatsoever. As much as I’d love to show my friends I have an exotic assemblage of food rituals in my home, the truth is, being born to two Asian parents who went to college in Kansas leaves you to grow up as mainly an American child.

One of the food rituals that would annoy me the most while getting through high school were my mom’s infamous night smoothies. My mom loved to buy produce from the nearby Korean marts, and the Korean marts oftentimes had great deals on fruit. For some reason, my mom would stockpile on a ton of fruit, buying entire boxes of cartons of blueberries for instance, to last us the whole week. Of course, being crazy busy high schoolers who could barely move their butts from their desks, my sister and I couldn’t finish the fruit on our own will.

To solve this, one day, my mom started to blend up all the fruits she would buy and serve us smoothies almost every night.

The smoothies were good at first—but as my sister buckled down on her science classes (she wanted to go Pre-Med) she complained about the high sugar content of the smoothies and how unhealthy it was to drink smoothies so late at night after meals. And we’d be given huge cups of the smoothie.

Being self-conscious teenagers, my mom’s smoothie tradition soon came to be dreaded.

But while we were overly concerned with our self-image and grumbled at our mom for splurging too much on buying too many fruits every week, we failed to use the social anthropological principle of cultural relativism: that is, suspending your personal judgments in order to clarify what cultural rituals mean to the person/entity performing them.

Social anthropology with smoothies? Why yes—my mom is not from any glorified primitive tribe anthropologists would die to study, but I think cultural relativism works well here. My sister and my personal judgments clouded over what my mom’s smoothie rituals meant to her.

We failed to see that she made these smoothies because she didn’t enjoy eating the fruits raw by themselves. While my sister and I struggled to get my mom to eat healthier, she was trying to make these smoothies—that she’d also drink besides my sister and I—to eat healthier for herself. Furthermore, we failed to see how much she enjoyed preparing these smoothies for us. When once we asked why she did this every night, she said with a grin, “I just wanted you both to have at least one dessert after every dinner.”

My mom isn’t from some complex culture that needs to be documented and shunted into some honors thesis, but this smoothie ritual revealed her personal culture: a culture that valued family togetherness, health, the enjoyment of food, and a culture that was ultimately selfless. We were supposed to had known her all our lives, yet it personally look me years to realize this, and to eventually become gracious of her smoothies.

Being here at Emory away from home now, I long for those days when I could have those smoothies every night, served by a woman whose pleasure couldn’t be deeper than with taking care of her daughters.


Bearing cultural relativism in mind, we’re allowed to examine things with a healthy amount of skepticism with legitimate reasoning to back it. Going back to the Chinese noodle recipe my group explored during class, I remember that we had some initial reactions to the recipe:

“Jeez, that was morbid.”

“So depressing.”

At the moment, I couldn’t have agreed with them more. However, in making these snap outsider judgments of the recipe, we overlooked what the tragedies in the recipe might have signified about the culture.

Now looking from a lens that forces me to suspend my snap judgments to explore within the world of the recipe as a member of its culture, the sadness surrounding the old man’s demise without his family emphasizes Chinese values of how having family around you means everything: this was a world in which the celebrated American approach to retiring of a free-spirited, independent old man was wholly unimaginable. Once your loved ones passed away or moved away from you, the other foundations of your life crumble: your business, your rituals, your own livelihood, your capability to be happy.

It is said that when a Westerner and an Asian observer see this picture, they give vastly different descriptions as to what they see.

“It’s a tiger.” says the Westerner.

“There’s a tiger in a jungle.” says the Asian observer. Or maybe she’ll just say, “It’s a jungle.”

These differing viewpoints need to be understood using cultural relativism: not one answer is correct, even though your answer might resonate more with one of the perspectives. Digging into the Western answer, the Westerner focused on the individual or most striking character that dominates the picture: the tiger. This reveals the Western values of independence and originality, and how sticking out as an individual matters. 

Digging into the Asian side, however, the element of the jungle is noted: this reveals the Asian’s adherence to community and evaluating things in life as a whole. This reveals the Eastern values of family, community, and conformity, and how being a contributor to your respective microcosm of society matters.

And only cultural relativism could get us to examine such stock photos under such a scrutinizing light.

Domain entry 3. Deciphering Long-life noodles from participant-observation perspective (Koby Junyoung Han, CHN 190)

The longer the noodle, the longer you live. Long-life noodles, as the name suggests, determines how long a person would live based on the length of noodle. It may seem unusual and weird, but not in Chinese culture. Food carries different symbols and meanings, depending on the context and culture. How do we then figure out what this food is to a specific culture, nation or group?

The most credible information, in my personal opinion, is which that has been validated internally and externally. Participant-observation fieldwork method employs fusing insider’s information and outsider’s knowledge appropriate and coming up with a conclusion. More specifically, this method involves observing and recording a wide range of information such as everyday tasks, hands-on activities. This method resonates with me the best because an observation is verified not once but twice; by the insider and the exterior knowledge.

Moreover, this method engages daily lives into observation, analysis and conclusion. From ethnographic point of view, ordinary lifestyle and culture of people are the best resource for an anthropological analysis of food. Dishes are not just food but an ethnical mark of a culture. Precise meaning and cultural dynamics of a food are best represented through studying how a particular food is treated in daily lives. Noodles are basic staple food for many Asian heritages. Of the various noodles available, how does the long-life noodles carry such interpretation?

Let’s assume I have zero knowledge about Chinese noodles and I believe noodles are simply the most basic source of staple food. One day I was invited to my Chinese friend’s family banquet where long-life noodle was served. Everyone took turns to have a strand of noodle. A little girl, luckily, had the longest single strand of noodle and everyone clapped for her. I could quickly understand that she was being blessed and praised by everyone but I still do not know why. A quick guess would be that the length of noodle meant something and the longer the noodle, the better it is for the person. Perhaps I could assume that the noodle represented luck, charm or happiness and longer noodle would mean more of these charms for the person.

Now the banquet was over and my friend asked me if I had enjoyed the banquet. Out of curiosity, I briefly told him about my observation and hypothesis on the long-life noodles. He immediately pointed out that my guess was almost right. Then he would go on and explain about what does having the longest strand of noodle actually mean. Now I clearly understand that longer noodle represents longer lifespan. I observed, made a guess based on my personal knowledge, experience and intuition, validated my assumption with the person of culture and comprehended the correct cultural meaning associated with the food. This is the participant-observation method I would employ at any situation personally.

As explained above, long-life noodle recipe carries such meanings and roles. In Korea, for instance, there is a saying that you will turn into a cow if you lie down on bed right after eating. It may not be directly related with recipe but still an important cultural belief associated with food. There may be professional books, thesis and blogs on food and its meaning in cultures. To me, the quickest and the best way to understand a recipe and its cultural significance is to ‘experience’ the recipe in everyday life of the people of culture. First-hand experience provides me with direct visual observation, direct participation in the social activity and direct engagement with the people of culture. It is the most reliable and credible fieldwork method for me.

In addition to participation-observation method, I would also explore theoretical approach to supplement my understanding of a recipe. Resources like cookbooks not only explain about nutritional values of a recipe but also other interesting related histories or cultures. If I had searched for more information on long-life noodle after the experience at the banquet and receiving insider’s information (my Chinese friend), I would certainly develop a clearer and wider understanding on this particular noodle.

As mentioned in the readings, recipe continues to change time after time. Also, not everyone has to follow every steps instructed in the recipe. Variation and modification can be carried out to any extent, as long as they are within the boundary of culinary tradition. A food would lose its original cultural property if the modification is too overwhelming. Just like how anyone can modify a recipe, the meanings related with food can be modified too. After all, it is people who define the social norm, culture and tradition with food. Food evolution, in terms of culinary and culture, is inevitable and unstoppable.

Fieldwork Methods Used to Analyze Italian Noodles (Jimmy Townsend, ITAL-190)

Social and cultural anthropology are both key to understanding food systems, different cuisines, dishes and even ingredients and how they relate, affect and connect to different people and places. Anthropology allows us to understand the historical backing and development of different dishes through different cultures. Through my reading of an Italian noodle recipe, plus the tools required and history of the Italian noodle, and of Gillian Crowther’s “Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food”, I found that the best anthropological fieldwork method to analyze the recipe is through a combination of a comparison and global system method. Both of these fieldwork methods rely on the cultural background of dishes and ingredients, which is the backbone of Italian cuisine. I will also delve into the importance of the terms cuisine and cultural artifact and then compare local versus external consumption of food.

Firstly, I want to briefly go over the terms ‘cuisine’ and ‘cultural artifact’ in terms of social anthropology. Cuisine is the physical manifestation of a culture, whether that is ideas, practices or behaviors, through food. A culture’s cuisine develops and changes in certain ways overtime based on industrialization, food shortages or other factors, but it’s general background and foundation always remains the same. It is what bring familiarity to food. Comfort food is almost defined this way, it is something you know and something that you will always remember. Cuisine is also affected by the term ‘cultural artifact’, which is the style of the food that makes it acceptable to its consumers. It can be food which is culturally marked, and that has a lasting impact on generations to come of different societies. Now, keeping this two terms in mind, I will detail what fieldwork method I would use to analyze an Italian noodle recipe.

There were actually two fieldwork methods that resonated with me while reading Crowther’s work: comparison and global system methods. I found that both of these methods were similar in that they involve different generations and cultures and how that relates to food. Crowther spoke about the code of ethical practice that both methods utilize. This code helps to maintain objectivity when studying the food systems or cultures as anthropologists. The comparison method looks between different generations and analyzes evolving traditions. This is very important when looking at Italian noodle recipes because the history of the noodle has evolved overtime, like most cuisines its foundation remains the same, though. Through time, the recipe for pasta has changed, where it originated as lasagne and baked in ovens, to different kinds of noodles with different shapes and different flours. Looking at how modern culture has affected Italian noodle traditions is interesting through the comparison method as we can see so many different options for pasta now, such as whole wheat, semolina or even chickpea pasta. Though the tradition of pasta has remained fairly steady, the ways in which it is made has evolved dramatically.

The second fieldwork method I would use is the global system method, which illuminates cultural biographies. It delves into the meaning of ingredients, the history of dishes as well as a cuisine’s defining dish. This method is helpful for understanding the Italian noodle recipe as it can help anthropologists understand why pasta has remained such a defining dish in Italy. Whenever you think about a certain culture, society or even cuisine, there is a certain dish that will pop up into the minds of most people – and that is what happens with Italian cuisine. What is truly interesting, though, is the idea of local versus external consumption of food, especially in terms of Italian noodles.

When you eat a food that is the cornerstone of a certain cuisine, and you are in the place of it’s origin, it is local consumption, but if you are in Peru and you eat sushi, it is seen as more of external consumption. This is interesting with Italian food because, even though it’s origins are in Italy and is a local Italian tradition, it has become a local American meal as well. With the dramatic increase in Italian restaurants and food sources in the U.S, certain pastas can almost be called American. As pasta is such a versatile ingredient, any culture can almost make it it’s own.

Social anthropology pursues how society and different cultures develop, and food is a great way to do so. Using the comparison and global system methods, we can determine that pasta is an ever-changing dish that still defines Italian cuisine. I wish I could go into more about social anthropology and how this is implied in Italian noodles, and the recipe I read, but I do not have the capacity to do so.