Food And Multiculturalism: Culture, Identity And Ethnocentrism

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Multiculturalism is a common phenomenon in contemporary society. There is thus a need for people to study different cultures and share ideas to accommodate a variation in the cultural behaviors experiences. The study of foods of different cultures, their preparations, and consumption is an essential step towards progressive multiculturalism. Among other non-verbal communication, food and meals are used as a means of expressing friendship and acceptance of new cultures. The link established by sharing of food among a variety of cultures is vital and thus an important consideration to study.

There is a long history of encouraging eating foods from other cultures as a means for people to learn about the cultures in Australia. It is argued that by eating a variety of foods, it indicates that the cities and regions of the country are tolerant of cultural differences (Chesters 110). The efforts are referred to as a ‘public pedagogy for official multiculturalism.’ The concept of multiculturalism in Australia is highly contested and at times, refers to theory, policy, and a way of describing cultural diversity as experienced in the country. Official multiculturalism refers to a policy whose aim is to promote the difference in cultures in a positive manner (Chesters 110). The use of public pedagogy relates to the sites, processes, and technologies that enable the public to learn about multiculturalism outside the formal system of education in Australia. They include the use of popular culture, the use of the internet, the use of museums, mass media, social media, and homes. It is essential to understand food pedagogies and how food is used as a pedagogy to promote multiculturalism in Australia.

There are various ways in which the educational policymakers, the tourism industry, the government, media industry promotes the idea of multiculturalism through the use of food pedagogy. The idea behind this movement is that by eating the food of other cultures, people can learn about themselves as well as different cultures. The concept is referred to as multicultural eating. One example of multicultural dining occurred in the 2011 Blacktown Multicultural Fiesta in Western Sydney (Wow Blacktown! 2011). The fiesta aimed at celebrating the cultural diversity in Blacktown by raising awareness, building relationships, and fostering harmony (Wow Blacktown! 2011).

Food and culture

There is a very extensive food on humanity. It can be described as a way of living. It enables people to experience their background, culture, traditions, and emotions (Demetriou 36). Food is connected to human physical and biological procedures. The kind of food consumed by people is determined by their geographical, social, religious, and economic dynamics. Food can thus be said to possess vital cultural connections to a given cultural background. Even though all humans have the same nutritional requirements, there is a vast multiplicity of diets and foods that are preferred by certain people (Demetriou 36). The children who grow up in the cultures become familiar with food habits and carry them on to the next generation. The kind of food chosen by a given culture, the way it is eaten, and prepared associates with the cultural customs. Encouraging people to learn about the foods eaten by other cultures may thus lead to cultural tolerance. As such, there is a need for people to learn about the choice of foods, how they are prepared, and how they are eaten across various cultures to achieve multiculturalism.

Food and identity

It is undeniable that food is a signifier, and that has a specific connection to a given group of people. One may get ideas about the culture of a given group of people by studying their foods (Demetriou 37). As such, food is identified as one of the most critical indicators of ethnic identity. Certain foods may be regarded as a taboo in one culture because the people of that culture considers such foods uneatable (Becuţ & Puerto 122). The same foods may, however, be eatable in other communities. For instance, the Jews and Muslims do not consume pork, whereas Hindus do not eat beef. How people classify foods as eatable and uneatable carries a message of their culture. Understanding various cultural classifications of foods and respecting them can thus lead to tolerance among multiple cultures.

Food as a symbol

Over the years, food has become a means through which communities demonstrate and maintain their identities. The foods of other communities can also be used as a tool for learning the identity of that particular group. The way humans interact with food from their culture and other cultures pass a message on how much they value and respect the cultures (Demetriou 38). Specific foods from various ethnic groups stand as a symbol to identify a person with that culture. For instance, rice is identified with Asian culture, while curry spices are identified with Indians. Learning various foods from a diversity of cultures can thus promote interrelationship among people of those cultures. Through this learning, multiculturalism is encouraged.

Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism refers to a belief that one’s culture is better or preferable over the other. Normally, human beings grow up believing that their culture is the best, normal, and right. Such a belief makes people unwilling to accept and learn about new cultures (Nganga 19). As such, specific foods associated with certain cultures appear awkward to other cultures. An example of ethnocentrism is the use of word Eskimo (Demetriou 40). Eskimo is an Indian word meaning ‘Fresh flesh-eaters.’ The name was used to discriminate against one group for their eating habits. Eskimos, on the other hand, referred to themselves as ‘the real people.’ The use of such terms is considered ethnocentrism as they could be believed to be meaning that the other groups are not real people. Encouraging people to learn about different cultures can reduce such behavior, thus strengthening multiculturalism.

Meals

Food can be used as a medium for communicating the sociability and hospitability of a given group of people. The relationships that exist among people may be determined by the kind of foods that they share together (Demetriou 41). Meals vary from one culture to another in terms of composition, location, length of time taken for a meal, and the communication. Eating together indicates that there are compatibility and acceptance within the community of people. Offering a meal to another person signifies friendship, and thus refusing food provided is seen as a refusal to an offer of friendship. Food, therefore, is used as a means of communication for certain feelings among people. Sharing foods among cultures is a symbol of acceptance of one another. Education aiming at teaching people about foods of other cultures is thus useful in attaining cultural tolerance among various cultures, hence encouraging multiculturalism.

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Immigrants and acculturation

When the immigrants move to a different culture, there may be a need to adapt to the culture as well as the foods eaten by the people of that culture (Schaefer & Simon 970). It is similar to a person who is traveling and thus has experiences different food habits as they move from one culture to another. Changes to adapt to the new foods experienced are part of the more extensive process of adapting to a new culture. The process may be long and gradual and may lead to the development of a new social group (Demetriou 44). The new group may be a subculture possessing the eating traits of both the host and the immigrant culture. When people migrate to a new culture, they continue eating the foods of the culture that they originated from as well as trying to switch to the foods offered by their hosts. In some cases, such people eat local foods in public while retaining their own meals at home. The process of adapting to the new culture can be facilitated by support from the locals. In such cases, the locals are expected not only to provide local foods but also to learn about the foods of the immigrants. In doing so, there will be easy bonding among the cultures encouraging multiculturalism.

Food and communication

Food is used as a nonverbal means of sharing meaning and feelings with others. Food is also directly linked to traditions and culture. Food as a culture must be learned on the basis of when it is produced, how it is prepared, and when it is consumed. Methods of preparing food vary from one culture to another. The methods relate to the kinds of foods available to the community, cultural needs, and the special needs of the society (Demetriou 45). The method of food preparation is a social phenomenon and must be studied with care because it determines the regard with which the food is taken. Universally, cooking converts the available food into a form that is accepted by a given culture. The categories of cooking are thus appropriate symbols of social organization and differentiation.

Opposition to the use of food as a means of encouraging multiculturalism

There are, however, other researchers who argue that the consumption of food from different cultures by white people is a form of pleasure (Flowers & Swan 6). It is used as a spice to withdraw from the dull common mainstream foods. The authors argue that eating foods from other cultures is not about learning about cultures. From this viewpoint, the culinary, cultural exchange does not lead to progressive multiculturalism at all. They argue that one can eat food from other cultures but keep the boundary. The viewpoint is, however, a subject to debate.

Some researchers argue that eating and cooking foods from other cultures can lead to various cultural exchange hence fostering multiculturalism. Multiculturalism does not just involve meeting in festivals and public places but also the intercultural encounters on a daily basis, such as at the office, streets, and family gatherings. Power and politics have an important role in daily multicultural interactions (Flowers & Swan 8). There is thus a need to examine the process of eating and cooking foods from other cultures and its intent in everyday encounters. A focus should be placed on Anglo-Australian whiteness and white foods to enable understanding of the complexities regarding different ethnicities.

Research indicates that it is the food the economically dominated cultures or the third world that is readily consumed by middle-class whites. The middle-class white people are ashamed of their white food heritage (Welton 636). They, therefore, opt to practice food adventuring. Food adventuring refers to an attitude and a spirit of distortion that pushes the middle-class white people into trying novel, authentic, exotic, and dangerous ethnic foods (Flowers & Swan 9). They use this as a project to pursue status and distinction.

In food adventuring projects, the people who are not white are used as a resource to aid the food adventuring by white people. In return, they earn authenticity and novelty. The novelty of the food provided is essential for food adventuring projects. They believe that the methods and ingredients used must thus be out of reach of other groups (Flowers & Swan 9). With the knowledge about the preparations being spread at a higher rate, the novel foods will soon turn to be familiar. As such, the adventurers will regard the foods as being dull the same way they think of the mainstream white food.

The adventurers believe that the foods, restaurants, and their ingredients need to be authentic. However, authenticity depends on the opinion of the white eater (Julier 173). As such, the white adventurers can manipulate the other cultures as they seek the unending authenticity, which, in the real sense, does not exist. The current day food adventuring is following the practice of white colonial masters to manipulate other cultures (Flowers & Swan 12). Those from the different cultures who seek white people’s approval are thus at risk of losing their culture and turn to a resource for white person realization. The food adventurers, just like the colonial masters, see the ethnic food as a resource that should be taken and used to their satisfaction.

In conclusion, there is a growing rate of cultural multiplicity due to the high rate of migration of people in currently. People encounter new cultures in their daily lives, and at times the experience is not very pleasant. There is, therefore, a need to understand the existence of cultural diversity and welcome it. The interaction among different communities must be taken as an opportunity to exchange information and learn about new cultures. Food can be used as a means of intercultural communication. Sharing meals is a symbol of friendship, understanding, and accepting each other. It can thus be exploited as a tool to encourage.

Works Cited

  1. Becuţ, Anda Georgiana, and Kàtia Lurbe i Puerto. ‘Introduction. Food History And Identity: Food And Eating Practices As Elements Of Cultural Heritage, Identity And Social Creativity’. International Review Of Social Research, vol 7, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-4. Walter De Gruyter Gmbh, doi:10.1515/irsr-2017-0001.
  2. Chesters, Janice. ‘Book Review: Dispossession, Dreams And Diversity: Issues In Australian Studies’. Journal Of Sociology, vol 43, no. 1, 2007, pp. 110-111. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/144078330704300110.
  3. Demetriou, Christina. ‘Food As An Instrument For Connecting Multicultural Societies By Christina Demetriou’. Multicultural Perspectives, vol 13, no. 2, 2012, pp. 1-52. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/15210960.2011.571548.
  4. Flowers and Elaine Swan. ‘Eating The Asian Other? Pedagogies Of Food Multiculturalism In Australia’. PORTAL Journal Of Multidisciplinary International Studies, vol 9, no. 2, 2012. University Of Technology, Sydney (UTS), doi:10.5130/portal.v9i2.2370.
  5. Julier, Alice. ‘Exotic Appetites: Ruminations Of A Food Adventurer, By Lisa Heldke.’. Food, Culture & Society, vol 7, no. 2, 2004, pp. 171-174. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.2752/155280104786577851.
  6. Nganga, Moses. ‘Cultural Ethnocentrism In Europe’. SSRN Electronic Journal, 2018. Elsevier BV, doi:10.2139/ssrn.3200161.
  7. Schaefer, Christoph Daniel, and Bernd Simon. ‘Opportunities For Immigrants’ Acculturation And Identification Varieties’. Political Psychology, vol 38, no. 6, 2016, pp. 959-975. Wiley, doi:10.1111/pops.12381.
  8. Welton, Michael. ‘‘No Escape From The Hard Things Of The World’: Learning The Lessons Of Empire’. International Journal Of Lifelong Education, vol 22, no. 6, 2003, pp. 635-651. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/0260137032000138185.
  9. Wow Blacktown! Multicultural Fiesta 2011. Online, available: http://au.wherevernow.com/?event=137651589635180

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