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The relation between food and culture

The relation between food and culture
How are food and culture related? Both of these elements reinforce each other. Throughout history, the availability and accessibility of food have determined the survival and growth of civilizations. On the other hand, food has been closely associated with cultural identity and heritage. The food we eat often reflects the geography, climate, and resources of a region, and shapes local cuisines and culinary traditions. Food is also an important aspect of social gatherings and celebrations. Food is a basic human need for survival. It provides the necessary nutrients and energy for our bodies to function properly. However, time and again we see food holding cultural and historical significance. Food not only provides sustenance, but what kind of food we consume reflects the history, traditions, values, and social dynamics of a community or group of people. Historically, control over food resources was often a source of conflict and competition among civilizations. Access to fertile land, water, and other food resources have been the driving factors of conflicts, conquests, and territorial expansion. One of the many reasons Prithvi Narayan Shah wanted to conquer Kathmandu was its fertile land and easy availability of fresh produce.

Whether it’s through agriculture, trade, cultural practices, or conflict, food has been a fundamental element of human civilization. It has shaped our past, continues to affect our present, and will likely play a significant role in our future as well. Control over food production and distribution has been used as a means of power and domination, shaping the political landscape of civilizations. This is one of the reasons why the oldest agrarian civilizations were found in riverbanks of great rivers such as the Nile, Yangtze, Indus etc.

Throughout history, food has been at the heart of human society, and its role continues to evolve in the modern world. So, the significance of food in human civilization cannot be underestimated. It has been and will continue to be a driving force in the development and evolution of societies. So, understanding the importance of food is crucial to understanding human civilization as a whole. In recent times, an Asian wave has gripped the world which has led to massive popularity of Korean food and appreciation of Korean culture. In the USA, which is the biggest melting pot of people from different cultures and backgrounds, food from around the world can be found in the streets of New York. Moving closer to home, in Nepal, the obvious correlation between food and culture can be seen in the Newar community. Newari Bhoj is an amalgamation of culture and food that brings people from different families in a community together. It’s a cultural practice that spans generations. Here, food is an integral aspect of social gatherings, celebrations, and rituals, and it helps to define cultural practices and customs. The unique way Newar community prepares food making its taste distinct from other communities has fostered cultural identity by bringing people together and creating a sense of belonging. Food can also be a means of communication, expressing social status, hospitality, and belonging to a particular group or community. In Hindu marriage ceremonies, it’s a common practice to bring various fruits, nuts, sweets, and fish as offerings. The act of preparing food with love and care communicates the affection a person has for another. Food plays a crucial role in marketing social differences. Different cultures have unique dietary practices, food taboos, and culinary traditions that are shaped by various factors such as geography, climate, religion, and historical influences. For example, in Brahmin and Chhetri communities of Nepal, cows are considered sacred and eating, selling, and distribution of cow meat is forbidden, while some indigenous communities consider beef to be a delicacy. The ways in which food is prepared, cooked, and consumed can also vary greatly across cultures, leading to a diverse range of flavors, textures, and culinary techniques. Food is scarce in the Himalayan region, and they have dishes of potatoes, soups and teas. Traditionally, people in hilly areas consumed grains such as rice, maize, corn, wheat, pulses, etc. Tarai, with its warm and humid weather, sees the growth of varieties of fruits and vegetables. Food also strengthens social bonds by providing opportunities for communal eating and shared experiences. Many cultures have rituals and customs associated with food, such as family gatherings, festive feasts, and special occasions. These occasions often involve traditional dishes that are prepared and shared among family members, friends, and communities, creating a sense of togetherness and fostering relationships. This can be best exemplified by the Newari bhoj, a communal eating experience that is also seen as a celebration and festivity in various jatras. Food can represent a sense of belonging to a particular cultural group, and people often take pride in their traditional cuisines and culinary skills. Food can preserve and pass down cultural heritage from one generation to another. The Italians take pride in their pastas and pizzas, the Mexicans have their tacos and burritos, the Polish have their ‘peirogi’, and the Vietnamese have ‘pho’. However, it’s important to note that food can also be a source of tension and conflict, especially in multi-cultural societies where differences in food preferences, dietary restrictions, and culinary practices may clash. It’s said that one of the reasons of Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is the consumption of meat. Food can sometimes be a symbol of social status, power, and inequality, leading to issues related to access, affordability, and distribution of food resources. For instance, in the Mushahar community of Nepal’s Tarai, rat meat has been eaten as a delicacy for generations but this has affected their interactions with other communities in society. Food is a reflection of who we are as individuals and as communities, and it continues to shape our cultural heritage in profound ways. So, next time you sit down for a meal, remember that it is more than just food on your plate. It’s a reflection of the rich cultural tapestry that surrounds us. We should appreciate and celebrate the diversity and significance of food in our cultural landscape.