Category Archives: Summer Blog Entry 1

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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

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Food is more complicated than you think

What was and is food to me?

As majority of people would agree, food was simply a source to fill my empty stomach until recently. Before I moved to United States, my eating pattern was always the same. My mom would wake me up every morning to eat breakfast of rice and hot soup, then at school I ate packed lunch of also rice and side dishes made by my mom, and at dinner all of my family members gathered together to eat what my mom and my aunts prepared. However, after my family immigrated to this country, our eating pattern changed drastically and I didn’t realize that such small part of our family tradition had huge impact in the dynamic and culture of our family. There was no more family gathered dinners with countless dishes on the table prepared all day by aunts and my mom, there was also no more breakfast of rice and hot soup before school due to my parents’ new work schedule. My sister and I had no choice but to eat pizza, bagels, French fries, frozen section food, microwaveable meals while waiting for our parents to come home from long hours of work. Now when I look back at my childhood in Korea versus in United states, the food we cooked and consumed did play a big role in providing the structure of our family’s daily lives and it was an unspoken example of a life of an immigrant family.

 As a reflective learner I used my personal experiences to understand these three different views of food systems to make it more personal and understandable. Also using pictures to visualize the words on the paper truly helped for a visual learner as myself. And as a sensing learner I tried to research more sources such as ted talks, studies, and scientific research that are related to these views to learn more about the facts of these different views and how it plays out in our daily lives. So I hope the methods I used to understand the context better can help the other classmates who are similar learner as I am.

3 different views of analyzing the food systems

  •  First, a functionalist view on the human system of food and eating questions and examines the role of food in defining the functions of people in their families, communities, and culture. As Beardsworth and Keil state, food is a crucial part of human life and survival. The foods that we call “edible” are not just items that can be consumed harmlessly; there are many factors that are considered before a novelty object is considered “edible”, and these factors vary according to the identity of the individual this questions is posed to. The individual’s gender, age, culture, and social status all play important roles within them to determine which kind of food or drink is edible or potable.


A functionalist approach on the food system helps us explore how food differentiates individuals from one another. Through eating, the world organizes itself into a unified, “functional” being. Studies of the diet of traditional peoples and their customs clearly reflect the separation of acceptable foods according to age, gender, and customs. It is quite interesting to see how our appetite is organized (almost controlled) into norms and interlaced to create a large whole. 

  • Second, reading about the structuralist approach helped me realize its crucial difference from the functionalist approach. While the functionalist approach examines how the food system relate to each other and unify as a whole, the structuralist approach analyzes the organization of the system itself. The culinary triangle adapted from Lévi-Strauss explains the transformation of raw food in a rigid manner, and I wondered how the structuralist approach can analyze human thought or mind. Can the complex human mind and the society formed by it be explained in such systematic manner?

    2Similar to the functionalist approach, structuralists argue that food can be understood as a pattern. Looking into family meals over a course of a few days, one can gain understanding of the diet of the group – whether it be society or culture – that they belong to. Douglas’ example of English Cuisine, as Beardsworth and Keil state, is only a small example of the food system.

  • Lastly, the developmental approach discusses the changes that occur to the food system. Whether it be new packaging method like the emergence of canned goods or social change, the entire food system is affected. The discussion of shift of constraints was particularly interesting; over the centuries, constraints on individual diet has been internal rather than external in many parts of the world. Many groups of people limit themselves or completely avoid from consuming certain types of food group, which could have been affected by the packaging or preparing of the “raw” food or a newly adapted religion or belief system. Changes in diet can be result of a change in lifestyle, which could have been influenced from social changes that the individual is surrounded by. Similarly, the new methods of food packaging permanently impacted the food system. Food canning and freezing allowed more exportation and importation, and the consumption of food changed dramatically, as it impacts us to this day. Examining the social changes, the developmental approach analyzes how the modern food system came to be, and how some individuals work to escape it by exercising dietary restrictions. It examines how the food system affects and is affected by the social changes, and how the individuals within these societies react to it. The reactions of these individuals would then reshape the food system, which can be witnessed in our everyday lives. As vegetarianism and veganism have been recently popularized, eating foods as close to their raw state as possible is promoted. Nutrients, processing, and freshness hold more importance as opposed to taste, pushing the modern food system to transform.

    Ted Talk given by Chef Dan Barber in 2010 “How I Fell in Love with a Fish”  ( 

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Hello world!

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Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!