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The Anthropology of Food and Eating

Sidney W. Mintz and Christine M. Du Bois
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 31 (2002), pp. 99-119
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4132873
Page Count: 21
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The Anthropology of Food and Eating
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Abstract

The study of food and eating has a long history in anthropology, beginning in the nineteenth century with Garrick Mallery and William Robertson Smith. This review notes landmark studies prior to the 1980s, sketching the history of the subfield. We concentrate primarily, however, on works published after 1984. We contend that the study of food and eating is important both for its own sake since food is utterly essential to human existence (and often insufficiently available) and because the subfield has proved valuable for debating and advancing anthropological theory and research methods. Food studies have illuminated broad societal processes such as political-economic value-creation, symbolic value-creation, and the social construction of memory. Such studies have also proved an important arena for debating the relative merits of cultural and historical materialism vs. structuralist or symbolic explanations for human behavior, and for refining our understanding of variation in informants' responses to ethnographic questions. Seven subsections examine classic food ethnographies: single commodities and substances; food and social change; food insecurity; eating and ritual; eating and identities; and instructional materials. The richest, most extensive anthropological work among these subtopics has focused on food insecurity, eating and ritual, and eating and identities. For topics whose anthropological coverage has not been extensive (e.g., book-length studies of single commodities, or works on the industrialization of food systems), useful publications from sister disciplines-primarily sociology and history-are discussed.

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