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I WORLD PROBLEMSNevin S. Scrimshaw





Low per capita food production and high rates of population growth in underdeveloped areas cause food shortages in many less developed countries, particularly in tropical and semitropical regions. Even though 60 to 80 per cent of the people in these countries are engaged in farming, their productivity is so low that it does not meet the needs of the population. By contrast, in some industrialized countries less than 8 per cent of the population is engaged in an agricultural industry that produces vast surpluses. Although these surpluses help to meet the needs of many other parts of the world, malnutrition is widespread and persistent in the underdeveloped areas and is responsible for much of the high mortality in these areas, whether by itself or in combination with infections of various types.

Factors limiting adequate food production are primarily social and economic rather than physical. The lack of knowledge and the illiteracy of the rural population complicate attempts to increase food production as well as to control population in underdeveloped countries. Long-standing customs, limited agricultural training activities, and inadequate storage and distribution facilities help to perpetuate low agricultural production in these areas. Lack of the tools of scientific agriculture and scarcity of money or credit for their purchase are major additional factors. Moreover, this inadequacy of the food supply is part of a vicious circle that keeps productivity low: malnourished populations are more vulnerable to disease and less capable of sustained work than are well-nourished populations.

Continued increases in food production can be anticipated in most of the less developed countries although in many areas they will not be large enough to maintain adequate per capita food supplies. The additional food necessary to give at least a subsistence ration to most persons is likely to continue to come from the food surpluses of the industrialized countries and to be augmented by the exploitation of new protein sources.

The over-all world food supply is failing to keep pace with population growth but is not yet limiting the world’s explosive population increase (Food and Agriculture Organization . . . 1966).

Food and history . The replacement of exclusive dependence upon hunting, fishing, and gathering by the beginnings of agriculture was the first great step in human development. The rate and scope of social evolution have depended to a major extent on the development of more effective means of obtaining food. In primitive cultures, man’s struggle for food consumes most of his time, thought, and energy. The creation of a surplus of food over and above what is needed to live leads to successive refinements in the subdivision of labor, which in turn make possible social and technical advances and thus the production of even greater quantities of food.

For millennia the food supply was a major factor limiting the growth of human populations and determining their density in any particular area. It is only in the last century that improvements in agricultural production have become sufficiently widespread to remove food as the limiting factor in most population growth. In combination with improved control and prevention of infectious and other diseases, an exponential increase in numbers of people has been the result.

Pressure for good agricultural land for the production of food has been a major factor in the turbulent warfare of the historical record. Crop failures have resulted in population losses through death and emigration, which have impoverished and impeded the social and economic development of populations and even whole countries. For example, Ireland has never recovered from the high losses from starvation and emigration as a direct consequence of the potato famine of the 1840s; the political history of the United States and Canada has perhaps been equally changed by hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants. Another example of the importance of food problems is found in the major political and economic consequences of the failure of agricultural production in the communist countries.

Contemporary problems

Paradoxically, the principal nutrition problem of the industrialized countries today is one of overeating, with a consequent increase in obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. [See OBESITY.]

In contrast, nutritional difficulties in underdeveloped countries are similar to those experienced in the industrialized countries 50 to 100 years ago. Children under five years of age and, to a lesser extent, pregnant and nursing mothers are most affected.

Common deficiencies . The most common severe nutritional deficiencies are those of protein and vitamin A. The best indicator of the prevalence of protein deficiency (“kwashiorkor”) is the mortality rate for children one to five years of age, which is commonly 20 to 50 times higher in underdeveloped countries than in areas like western Europe, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Infant mortality rates (deaths of children under one year of age) are two to four times higher in most less developed countries than in those that are industrialized. Early weaning with improper substitutes and inadequate supplementation of breast milk are important factors in high mortality rates for infants who survive the dangerous first months of life.

Vitamin A deficiency is also most common among preschool children; it causes severe eye lesions which often result in blindness. In Indonesia and other countries of southeast Asia, deaths from secondary infection are particularly common in children with vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency could be readily prevented by the green and yellow vegetables that are, or could be, widely available in most countries.

Another common problem—marasmus, or partial starvation—is seen most often among infants who have been prematurely weaned and fed watery gruels that are deficient in both calories and protein. A form of acute thiamine deficiency (infantile beriberi) is a cause of death among nursing infants in some southeast Asian countries, where a polished rice diet results in thiamine (vitamin BO deficiency in mothers. Beriberi also still occurs among many adults in these areas. Pellagra, caused by inadequate niacin and tryptophan intake, is seen in those populations of Africa that subsist on maize as the principal staple, but it is seldom seen in the maize-eating populations of Latin America, where additional niacin is provided by both beans and coffee.

Women experiencing repeated cycles of pregnancy and lactation are likely to develop iron deficiency anemia, loss of bone calcium, and reduced lean body mass. Malnutrition in other adults is less common, except in times of famine, although individuals unable to obtain work, or too old or sick to work, may be seriously undernourished because they cannot afford to buy adequate food. Alcoholism is a common cause of malnutrition in both underdeveloped and industrialized countries because money is spent on alcohol rather than on proper food.

The cost of malnutrition . The cost of malnutrition to less developed areas is exceedingly high; it includes the waste of resources in rearing infants who die before they can become useful citizens and the reduced working capacity of malnourished adults. From a quarter to a third or more of the children die before they reach school age, largely from infections that would not be fatal to a well-nourished child or from clinical malnutrition precipitated by a prior episode of acute infectious disease (Scrimshaw 1966). Nearly all children among the less privileged populations of underdeveloped countries show retarded growth and development at the time they reach school age; and although they are rarely seriously malnourished during school years, they do not make up for the deficit acquired during preschool years. Recent evidence suggests that the retardation in physical development in infancy is paralleled by impaired mental development, which is probably permanent. This means that the future development of a country is compromised by serious malnutrition in young children. Moreover, attempts to provide adequate medical care are complicated and made more costly by both the greater amount and the longer duration of illness of both malnourished children and adults.

An unfortunate aspect of malnutrition in adults is that the workers so adapt themselves to malnutrition by reduced vitality and activity that they scarcely realize they are underfed. The final result is lethargy, lack of drive, and loss of initiative. For both industrial and farm workers it leads to absenteeism because of sickness and to higher accident rates because of early fatigue. In general, the countries of the world with the lowest per capita consumption of food are also those where the efficiency of the workers is lowest.

Reasons for malnutrition

Although for the world as a whole the long-term trend of per capita food production has been upward, there has been a decline in per capita food production in communist Asia and in India, as well as in many parts of Latin America and southeast Asia (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 1963). If the high population growth rates in the less developed countries increase as projected, still more of these countries will soon be unable to maintain present levels of per capita food production. It is important to recognize that increased food needs will continue to arise not only from a growing population but also from greater per capita income. As people in the less developed countries improve their financial status, much of the increase is spent for food. In some countries where food production has not kept pace, this situation has led to a substantial rise in imports of food, and in others the effect of growth in income has been balanced by rising food prices. Either result has serious economic and political consequences.

Using food shipments from regions of high per capita productivity to meet part of the food needs of the increased numbers of people in the less developed countries is not a satisfactory solution, because it involves considerable problems of transporting and financing, which are further complicated by political issues. Ideally, adequate food production should be achieved in each area, unless foreign exchange is available for food purchases from cash crop or industrial exports.

Physical waste . Unfortunately, the largest loss of food to insects and rodents occurs in those countries with the greatest food shortages. For example, in some of the grain storage bins of India, the loss to rodents alone is over 30 per cent. Conservative official estimates of total such preventable food losses in India indicate that they are greater than the present large annual food deficit and constitute at least 25 per cent of the total grain production; if such losses were prevented, India would have food for export.

In tropical regions of the food-short countries, mold causes additional spoilage. In the case of peanuts, an important source of protein in Africa and India, one type of mold (Aspergillus ftavus) produces a substance called “aflatoxin,” which even in trace amounts is highly carcinogenic for experimental animals. This mold also grows freely on cereal grains, sweet potatoes, and legumes, and even slightly moldy food is likely to be unfit for human consumption. Lack of refrigeration also results in spoilage of fruits and vegetables, which are a glut on the market when in season and unavailable or prohibitively expensive the rest of the time.

The great majority of the malnourished populations of the world depends on either a cereal staple such as rice, wheat, or corn, or starchy roots such as manioc or potatoes. The former are more nutritious, but the latter produce more calories per acre, require less labor, and are somewhat easier to store without serious loss.

Cultural waste . It is a mistake to conclude that the malnutrition of less developed areas is solely due to inadequate food production, lack of storage facilities, or even lack of purchasing power. Ignorance of the nutritional needs of young children and lack of understanding of the relationship between food and health are of equal or greater importance. The failure to give any food supplement to breast-fed infants before 9 to 12 months of age in many countries; the use of rice-water, barley-water, cornstarch or even sugar-water as a weaning food; and the variety of taboos surrounding the giving of eggs to young children are examples of common practices which lead to malnutrition and death of children under five years of age, even among families whose older children and adults do not suffer from malnutrition. In underdeveloped countries, one often sees a critically malnourished child with a woman who is wearing new clothes and jewelry and who is totally unaware of the true reason her child is dying.

The various erroneous beliefs surrounding the proper feeding of children with infections are often the most important factors in the chain of multiple causation leading to acute nutritional disease. For example, in both south India and Central America children with measles are given water in which a small amount of cereal and various local herbs has been cooked—a diet grossly deficient in protein and calories. Such beliefs also cause the family to spend money for charms, ceremonies, and useless proprietary medicines.

In underdeveloped areas the seemingly irrational beliefs regarding food may be quite elaborate. Particularly common is the practice of classifying foods and prohibiting certain combinations. In Peru, for instance, foods are “hot, cold, heavy, or light.” A complex of beliefs indicates when and to whom a given class of foods can be fed. Certain classes of food are considered appropriate or inappropriate, without relation to their nutritive value, at times such as pregnancy or during one or another illness. Few societies recognize the true relationship of foods to health.

Improving production and conservation

The yield increases of the industrialized countries are due to chemicals, mechanization, good seeds and animal breeds, and their effective use. Chemicals and machinery could achieve miracles in the less developed areas, but they require greater capital investment and know-how than are presently available. Selective breeding of plants and animals could also be extremely effective: types of both have been developed which are much more productive and sometimes also more resistant to disease. For example, virus-resisting potatoes, rust-resistant wheat, hybrid corn and, most recently, high lysine corn and gossypol-free cottonseed are part of the “miracle” of food production in the industrialized countries, along with greatly improved breeds of poultry, cattle, sheep, and swine.

Some of these superior varieties can be introduced directly into less developed countries, but most require additional research for their adaptation to different environmental conditions. Agricultural research and its application through agricultural extension have been a major factor in high yields in the developed countries. Production of most improved varieties requires considerable knowledge of scientific agriculture as well as much initial capital investment, and the education of government officials is also an important factor. Poorly informed administrative and policy officials often block the efforts of extension workers and farmers by ill-considered taxes or import controls, unwise emphasis on cash crops, neglect of agricultural research, indifference or hostility to producer cooperatives, and failure to provide for rural credit.

Limiting physical waste . Solution of the food problems of less developed areas will require extensive improvements in the conservation and handling of food as well as in its production. Of first importance is reducing preventable food losses through the use of insecticides and rodenticides, construction of rat-proof and dry storage facilities, fumigation of grain, and improved distribution by using protective packaging materials and more rapid transportation. Controlled atmosphere and cold storage facilities are useful for some seasonal and highly perishable crops, and refrigeration is essential for the proper conservation of meat, poultry, and fish.

Smoking and salting are simple and effective means of preserving meat and fish for adult consumption, but in general they do not provide food that is suitable as major protein sources for infants and young children. Sun-drying is widely used for many foods, but this has serious limitations in a hot, moist climate, especially when proper storage conditions are unavailable. Using artificial heat is more costly and involves the same problems of storage and packaging. Thermal processing or canning represents a big economic step because it requires scalable containers as well as higher temperatures. In industrialized countries spray-drying has been extensively employed for milk and a variety of other products that are fluid before processing. Obviously, the handling of frozen foods in tropical underdeveloped countries in the early stages of industrial development poses problems that preclude the widespread application of freezing as a method of food storage. Freeze-drying seems too expensive to apply to food staples, but the shelf life of certain types of food may be extended by low doses of ionizing radiation. Chemical preservatives and other additives that have been important in the efficient utilization of the food supply in modern nations are also needed in underdeveloped countries. Examples are antioxidants to slow down the process by which fats become rancid and propionates to inhibit molds.

New food sources . Nutritional requirements can be satisfied by an adequate source of calories and sufficient quantities of each of the essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in any utilizable form, whether natural or synthetic. There are many compelling reasons why most nutrients will continue to be supplied largely from plants and animals for a long time to come, but new and exotic sources of food are being explored.

Oilseed meals, such as cottonseed flour, can serve as valuable new sources of proteins provided that they are carefully processed. Furthermore, much nutritional benefit can be derived from the enrichment of certain foods. For example, the quality of most protein-containing foods of vegetable origin can be improved by combining them with foods of complementary essential amino acid content or by adding the missing amino acids in synthetic form. Other examples include the enrichment of salt with potassium iodide for the prevention of goiter, a measure which has proved as practical and effective in Guatemala and Colombia as in the United States and Switzerland; the prevention of beriberi and pellagra by the addition of B-complex vitamins to cereal products; the enrichment of margarine and skim milk with vitamins A and D so that they are nutritionally acceptable substitutes for butter and whole milk, respectively, and the addition of the amino acid lysine to wheat and wheat flour.

In a number of underdeveloped areas where milk cannot be depended upon to furnish needed protein, vegetable mixtures that were developed to serve this purpose are proving to be commercially successful and are bringing about important nutritional improvements. Furthermore, the world catch of marine fish has increased enormously in recent years, and processes have been developed for the production of a low-cost fish protein concentrate. In the meantime, fresh, canned, and smoked fish are compensating for the protein inadequacy of the diet in Japan and a number of other countries. Attempts to use algae, green leaves, and even grass as sources of protein have met with little success because of poor palatability and excessive costs, but this could be changed by technological developments. Other possible protein sources are food yeast, which can be grown with several inexpensive carbohydrates, such as molasses and sulfite liquor of the paper industry. Other microorganisms can be produced by using petroleum by-products or natural gas as their source of energy.

Synthetic foods. Palatable synthetic foods simulating bacon, hamburger, ham, chicken, fish, and scallops have already been developed from soy protein isolate. Protein fibers are spun like nylon and reconstituted into textured foods that can be flavored in any desired manner. At present these are as expensive as the foods they simulate, but as the number of mouths to feed increases and costs of the process are brought down they are likely to prove useful. The nutritional needs of the body can already be reduced to chemically known substances that can be synthesized or extracted from natural products. To meet the demands of an enormously increased world population, the eventual use of wholly synthetic foods seems likely. Ironically, most of the efforts to achieve this are being stimulated by the nutritional requirements of man in space rather than by terrestrial food problems.

Social science research . Much of the malnutrition in the world today, particularly among young children, can be prevented by changes in feeding practices. Increased production and purchasing power will not alone automatically eliminate malnutrition; too often the additional money is spent on soft drinks, alcohol, or other consumer items that will not improve inadequate diets. Nutritional education must be a major part of efforts to eliminate malnutrition.

There is much that the social scientist can contribute to solving world food problems. Persons responsible for nutrition and health education need to understand the reasons for food practices and beliefs, yet these have too often been neglected by social scientists even when studying a culture in detail. Even less research has been done on the most appropriate and effective means of inculcating food habits in various cultures (See Mead 1943; 1964).

An exception was the introduction in Guatemala of the low-cost protein-rich vegetable mixture, In-caparina, which benefited from preliminary field studies by anthropologists. The success of this product is attributable in large part to its introduction as a variant on the traditional atole rather than as a new food product. It will not always be possible to use this technique, for new foods often will have no local counterpart. The guidance of social scientists who have made advance studies will be particularly needed for the introduction of products that have never before been used for human feeding, such as fish protein concentrate or bacterial protein.

There is also need to study changes in food habits or attempts to impose new foods, for their impact on other aspects of culture. Gifts of unfamiliar surplus foods may simply be unused or they can upset patterns of life that are oriented about indigenous staples. Authoritarian methods of forcing nutritional standards on a child or a community may endanger cooperation in other important matters.

A major obstacle to introducing agricultural techniques is the lack of local technological knowledge and competence. Agricultural extension agents and teachers often attempt to induce change blindly without understanding the existing beliefs and traditions that they are trying to alter. Similarly, although technology is making rapid progress in devising practical techniques for family planning, motivating people to make use of them remains a problem. In order to make such programs more effective, there is an urgent need for studies of the ways in which the desired changes can be achieved.

The agricultural revolution

The world is now in the midst of a revolution in food production, conservation, and distribution that is as far-reaching in its effects on societies as the original development of agriculture; it is comparable in significance to the industrial revolution, with which it is closely allied. Farm production in the industrialized countries has risen spectacularly within a few decades, simultaneously with a sharp reduction in the numbers of persons engaged in farming and the actual amount of land under cultivation. This has meant food for greatly increased numbers of people. Equally important, the workers no longer needed in agriculture are freed for the production of consumer goods and services to an extent beyond any previously seen in history. It is this freedom which has made possible modern economic and social development.

With the need for farm labor decreasing, the cities of the industrialized countries have received the increase in population. Nevertheless, food production in these countries is rising despite the diminishing farm population, thus providing enough food for the growing urban markets. In many of the less developed countries, population is outgrowing available land, and people from the rural areas are migrating to the cities in ever larger numbers. However, in most such countries farming remains largely at subsistence levels, and transportation and storage facilities are inadequate to meet the demands of the cities for food distribution.

An efficient agriculture thus becomes a prime requisite of economic and social development. Subsistence agriculture adds nothing to the national economy; and until enough farm families contribute to meeting the food needs of urban families, the manpower and capital required for industrialization will not be available. Once food production rises sufficiently to provide a firm basis for economic and social development, the process tends to accelerate. Research results accumulate and are applied; capital is amassed and invested; machines are constructed and put to work. As the process continues, more and more people are available, educated, and trained for the complex tasks of a technically advanced society. Unless the health and intelligence of the people are such that they can make good use of modern knowledge and technology, no amount of investment in material things can ensure satisfactory social and economic development. A good food supply is needed to prevent excessive morbidity and mortality from disease as well as the poor learning and working capacity that result from malnutrition. At present, the growing per capita shortage of food in many countries will continue to thwart the ambitions and make a mockery of the goals of economic planners.


[Other relevant material may be found inAGRICULTURE; MORTALITY; POPULATION, article onPOPULATION GROWTH; TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE; and in the biography ofSAUER.]


ALTSCHUL, AARON M. 1965 Proteins: Their Chemistry and Politics. New York: Basic Books.

BROWN, LESTER R. 1963 Man, Land and Food: Looking Ahead at World Needs. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No. 11. Washington: Government Printing Office.

BROWN, LESTER R. 1965 Increasing World Food Output. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Economic Report No. 25. Washington: Government Printing Office.

BURGESS, ANNE; and DEAN, REGINALD F. A. (editors) 1962 Malnutrition and Food Habits: Report of an International and Interprofessional Conference. New York: Macmillan.

CONFERENCE ON MEETING PROTEIN NEEDS OF INFANTS AND PRESCHOOL CHILDREN, WASHINGTON, D.C., 1960 1961 Progress in Meeting Protein Needs of Infants and Preschool Children: Proceedings. . . . National Research Council Publication No. 843. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS The State of Food and Agriculture. ⇒ Published since 1947. The authoritative annual review of developments in the world food and agricultural situation. See especially the 1966 volume.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS 1963 Third World Food Survey. Freedom From Hunger Campaign Basic Study No. 11. Rome: FAO.

JELLIFFE, D. B. 1955 Infant Nutrition in the Subtropics and Tropics. Monograph Series, No. 29. Geneva: World Health Organization.

MEAD, MARGARET 1943 The Problem of Changing Food Habits. Pages 20-31 in National Research Council, Committee on Food Habits, The Problem of Changing Food Habits: Report of the Committee on Food Habits; 1941-1943. National Research Council Bulletin No. 108. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

MEAD, MARGARET 1964 Food Habits Research: Problems of the 1960’s. National Research Council Publication No. 1225. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.

RITCHIE, JEAN A. S. 1950 Teaching Better Nutrition: A Study of Approaches and Techniques. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Nutritional Studies, No. 6. Washington: Government Printing Office.

SCRIMSHAW, NEVIN S. 1966 The Effect of the Interaction of Nutrition and Infection on the Pre-school Child. In International Conference on Prevention of Malnutrition in the Pre-school Child, Washington, D.C., 1964, Pre-school Child Malnutrition: Primary Deterrent to Human Progress. National Research Council Publication No. 1282. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council.


The consumption of food, like other biologically supportive activities, is an aspect of cultural behavior. In no society are people permitted to eat everything, everywhere, with everyone, and in all situations. Instead, the consumption of food is governed by rules and usages which cut across each other at different levels of symbolization. These symbolizations define the social contexts and groupings within which food—or a particular kind of food—is consumed, and prohibit or taboo the consumption of particular foods. An important dimension of the social contexts regulating the consumption of food is the principle that patterns of consumption and distribution must be examined as one. For example, there are some societies in which it is believed that a person will die if he eats food which he has grown himself, while in others it is felt that a person may eat only food which he himself has grown or acquired by purchase or other exchange. Between these two extremes are several other patterns.

In all societies the distribution and consumption of food is an expression of a variety of social relationships: those of social proximity and distance, religious-ritual fraternity and status, political superordination and subordination, bonds within and between families, and the like. The definition of food, its distribution, and its consumption always take place with reference to individuals as occupants of statuses and categories within institutionalized groupings.

In other words, food is used symbolically to represent only some social forms and personal feelings in a society, and these are usually among the important forms and personal feelings in the group’s life. Thus, by noting the specific and bounded social contexts—clan, village, in-law relationships, friendship, and the like—within which food is employed symbolically, it is often possible to infer which are the important groupings and relationships within the society. For example, a taboo on eating the totemic animals associated with one’s clan is indicative of the significance of clans in the organization of the society’s institutions; it is not the taboo per se which suggests the importance of clan relationships but the fact that some rule governing the consumption of food—in this case, forbidding it—is associated with the clan. Why clans usually prohibit their members from eating the animals associated with these groups is a separate question, and one about which there is still considerable uncertainty.

Among some Melanesian people the rule that a man must give part of the harvest of a crop to his sister, while his wife receives a similar prestation from her brother, provides a clue to the importance of certain matrilineal ties; in societies that have a caste system the rule that the members of different castes may not eat together indicates the importance of formal distance between castes as well as the caste organization itself. Correlatively, when food ceases to be employed as a vehicle for the expression of social sentiments within a grouping, e.g., in a clan, or when proscriptions concerning the consumption of food are attacked, it can be assumed that significant changes are taking place in the socioeconomic structure of that society.

The rules governing the distribution of food within a society reflect and reinforce prevailing ethical and moral orientations in that society. For example, when the government of the United States willingly distributes food supplies to poor people in other societies but not within American society itself, it appears that its dominant values implicitly tend to define poverty as an indication of moral failure, if not as sinful. Hence, the assumption often appears to be that if there were gratuitous distributions of food to poor Americans, such action would be construed as reward or even approval of such moral failure. But since it is characteristic that the criteria pertaining to the distribution of food within a social system differ entirely from those relating to other groupings or societies, American society can make prestations of food to people in other societies while refusing (or being unable) to do so within its own social boundaries.

Almost every society defines a few foods as acceptable for consumption under some circumstances but wholly unacceptable in others. For example, foods which are associated with amusement and relaxation are usually considered inappropriate to ritual or ceremonial occasions. In pluralistic and stratified societies, most foods which are grown indigenously are eaten by people in all groups; however, in almost all such societies, there are a few foods and drinks which are not universal or which will be consumed by members of different groups in different contexts or situations. Thus, for example, the same alcoholic beverages in a pluralistic society will be drunk under different conditions and in entirely different places by members of different groups. Such definitions both symbolize and reinforce the consciousness of separateness and distance existing between bounded groups in pluralistic and stratified societies.

For reasons which are not yet completely clear, the major transitional crises of the life cycle—the rites de passage —are marked in almost all societies by ritual or ceremonial distribution and consumption of food. One possible hypothesis to explain these nearly universal customs is that each of the three transitional crises (birth, marriage, death) initiates a significant alteration in socioeconomic relationships and reciprocities and that these are symbolically noted in displays, distributions, prestations, token exchanges, and consumption of food. An individual’s birth automatically establishes reciprocal rights and duties between him and others to whom he is related in a series of interlocking social networks; marriage in all societies is a transitional ceremony which establishes bonds and reciprocities between the kin groups of the marrying couple; an individual’s death terminates, and requires readjustments in, reciprocal economic relationships.

In addition to these ritual celebrations through distribution and consumption of food, as well as other forms of wealth (e.g., bride wealth), a great many societies celebrate historical or ceremonial events according to calendrical systems. These recurrent and fixed celebrations are usually governed by ritual consumptions of food, as in the American Thanksgiving feast or in the custom of many Americans to celebrate their Independence Day with family picnics. Calendrically regulated religious events are similarly celebrated.

One of the fundamental principles governing the organization of social relationships in all societies is the division of labor by sex; most societies also stipulate divisions of labor according to the additional criteria of age, status or ranking, group membership, and the like. Although the division of labor is most apparent in the production of food, it also plays a major role in the consumption of food. There is probably considerable, even systematic, overlap between rules governing the division of productive labor and those governing food consumption, of which kinship is undoubtedly of prime importance; thus far, little work has been done on this problem. A possible model for such an analysis would be a horticultural society in which the wife does most of the productive work, raising food which her husband then gives to his sister.

The distribution and consumption of food within the nuclear family also symbolize institutionalized relationships. For example, among the Tallensi of west Africa there are many expressions of the separateness of father and son and of the father’s absolute authority. One of these symbolizations is the rule that a son may not look into his father’s granary during the father’s lifetime. After the father’s death, his eldest surviving son is conducted ritually by his father’s brothers to peer into the deceased’s granary. This son thus acquires control over the distribution of the food stored in the granary, and this prerogative, among others, symbolizes and supports his control over the patrilocal extended family.

To cite another illustration, where it is the assigned task of the woman of a household to distribute the food within the nuclear family, e.g., by serving meals to members of the household, the manner in which she distributes the food may symbolize relationships to her husband and children at different stages of the family cycle (and to other members of the household, if present). Thus, status relationships within the family are sharply delineated by such rules as whether a woman eats with her husband or separately, when and whether a,man eats with his children, etc. Among the Manus of the Admiralty Islands, near New Guinea, the estrangement between husband and wife during the first few years of marriage, and the competitive relationship in which each stands in relation to the kin of the other, is symbolized in part by the shame they feel in eating together. The most competitive relationships among the Manus are between brothers-in-law and between sisters-in-law: these people may not eat together.

The special significance of food in the symbolization of kinship relationships generally can be seen in the fact that behavior with respect to food in the nuclear family often varies with the degree of segregation or division of role relationships; the latter is in turn dependent on the degree to which the nuclear family is connected to a wider nexus of kinship networks. Thus, one of the symbolizations of the greatly reduced segregation of role relationships between husband and wife in modern complex societies—attendant on the weakening of wider kinship matrices—has been the tendency to minimize and blur the division of labor with respect to the distribution of food within the family. In the lower social strata of Western societies, for example, men do not cook or otherwise participate in the distribution of food within the family; in these strata there is usually a strong connection between the nuclear family and wider kinship groupings and a marked degree of segregation in role relationships between husband and wife. In higher social strata in some Western societies, on the other hand, there are situations in which men do cook and participate in the distribution of food within the nuclear family; these situations tend to arise as segregation in role relationships between spouses becomes weakened as part of the attenuation of wider kinship relationships.

Most societies provide for separateness between nuclear families. One of the symbolizations of this separateness is in the confinement of the preparation and consumption of food to the social boundaries of the nuclear family. In most polygynous organizations, each wife has her own hearth or kitchen; she and her children eat separately, the husband either eating with each nuclear family serially or eating with his senior wife. While such arrangements are usually interpreted by anthropologists as being designed to maintain peace among co-wives, these patterns of consumption must also be understood as representations of the social-structural differentiations which most societies make between nuclear families. Among some Mexican Tarascan groups who possess a stem-family organization, in which a son continues to live with his father after marrying, the son’s wife and her mother-in-law share a common kitchen, and the two nuclear families eat jointly. When dissension occurs, or in anticipation of the son’s plans to found an independent household, his wife will sometimes establish her own kitchen, and the two families will eat separately. Among the Cheyenne Indians of North America, where men were forbidden to speak directly to their mothers-in-law, the men were required to provide all the meat by hunting; this was cooked in the mother-in-law’s lodge, but then her daughters carried the food to their respective tepees for eating. The hunting and gathering Tiwi of Northern Australia are one people who do not separate the component nuclear families of polygynous households into consumption units. Instead, each polygynous household cooks and eats as a unit. This is probably because each household head has many more wives, especially elderly ones, than he has children; hence, there are few component nuclear families in each household.

There are four patterns which govern the distribution of food, and hence the consumption of food; three of these are patterns of sharing. Although they have a tendency to shade off into one another, they are easily identifiable and clearly illustrate the basic principle that it is a characteristic of social systems to symbolize social relationships by means of different patterns of distributing and consuming food. These four patterns are (1) recurrent exchange and sharing of food; (2) mutual assistance and sharing in times of need; (3) narrowed and reluctant sharing; and (4) nonsharing.

(1) Recurrent exchange and sharing. There are several variations on this pattern of sharing; all, however, are associated with and symbolize a combination of factors which tend to give rise to maximal solidarity within the community: social affiliation based on consanguineal kinship; physical proximity between households; the prescription or careful control of residence by, among other fac- tors, rules of residence; the conduct of interper- sonal communication in stable and consistently functioning primary or face-to-face groupings. In brief, the combination of highly integrated kin groups, physical proximity, and sedentary life ap- pear to yield strong feelings of social proximity. Recurrent exchange and sharing of food is one of the symbolic representations of this solidary state.

Among most peoples characterized by this kind of social organization, there is a constant flow of gifts of food from household to household within the solidary grouping. Among other societies, whose cultures are suffused with religious ceremonial (e.g., the Hopi and Tallensi), the recurrent distribution of food, too, takes place in a religious ceremonial context. Among still others (e.g., the Kur-tatchi and the Papago), there are unelaborated but repeated donations, prestations, and exchanges of small token amounts of food among kinsmen.

Regardless of the variations on the theme, these recurrent and repetitive exchanges of food almost always take place within the sociological boundaries of the solidary community. Also, such recurrent exchanges of food are in addition to ceremonialized or ritualized feasts.

(2) Mutual assistance and sharing in times of need. The primary difference between type (1) and the social organization with which mutual as- sistance in times of need is associated is that in the latter the ties and alignments of kinship are not solidified into corporate kin groups. The bonds of kinship, qualitatively speaking, are equally strong in both social organizations, but in the present in- stance these ties are not elevated to the level of exclusive and solidary groupings. A degree of social and emotional solidarity arises in such a community from the strong and marked tendency to affiliate primarily with kinsmen, real or fictive. Usually the members of such a community are mostly kinsmen, and sometimes entirely kinsmen. An element of fissility, and a corresponding degree of social distance, is introduced into such a social organization by a variety of factors. First, physical mobility and change in community membership are usually permitted, thus resulting in the simultaneous presence of kinsmen and non-kinsmen within the group. Where nonkinsmen join the community, they are sometimes addressed and treated as kinsmen; preference for consanguineal ties is the mainspring of such relationships. But of equal, if not greater, significance is the fact that kinsmen have the right to sever relationships with their group and either establish or join an entirely independent one. While extreme personalization of relationships is the rule in this social organization, social cohesiveness and proximity are proportionately weakened by movement away from kinsmen and by the intrusion of nonkinsmen into the community. Among many peoples (e.g., the Andama-nese, Arunta, South African Bushmen, Plains Indian tribes) the exigencies of the food-producing environment, rather than tensions and quarrels, appear to have necessitated such adjustments on the social-structural level. In either event, the consequences, in terms of fission and social distance, are similar.

It is possible to observe a process of compromise in this social organization between forces which give rise to social proximity and those resulting in social distance. Any of these, when taken alone, is productive of either solidarity or fissility. For example, clanship among the Navajo or the peasants of Shantung province in pre-Republican China would, when taken separately, produce a high degree of social solidarity. Obversely, the isolation of the family—geographically, and hence emotionally, among the Navajo and almost entirely emotionally among Shantung peasants—gave rise to the emotional inbreeding of the family vis-à-vis the community. The simultaneity of factors making both for solidarity and for fissility produces a compromise between the two and places such peoples at this point along the continuum of social cohesiveness and solidarity rather than at the point of maximal or minimal solidarity. Mutual assistance in times of need is characteristic of such societies.

In nomadic hunting and gathering societies having this type of social organization, mutual assistance and sharing in times of need often take the form of the immediate dispensation of meat to almost all the households of the community as soon as an animal is captured or slain, especially to those who do not have meat. In sedentary societies, mutual assistance in times of need takes the form of aid rendered to kinsmen, real or fictive, when economic help is objectively required. There is, of course, mutual assistance in time of need in societies which practice recurrent exchange and sharing; however, as the present instance indicates, there are many societies in which there is mutual assistance without the elaboration of recurrent exchange.

This is not meant to imply that there are no feasts and exchanges whatever in this social organization; these are present, but they occur only on specific occasions, e.g., religious events and the life crises marked by rites de passage. Nor is the idea or concept of recurrent prestation unknown in such societies, but such exchange is almost always confined to gifts of goods, not food.

(3) Narrowed and reluctant sharing. By this is meant that whatever assistance is rendered to people is given very reluctantly and grudgingly. This pattern of food distribution is ordinarily associated with fragmented social systems in which the isolated nuclear family unit is the significant unit of association; socially, geographically, and emotionally isolated from all other family units, it constitutes neither a society nor a community. Nor do the several family units constitute a society, structurally or functionally, when they come together.

The primary characteristic of this social system is the presence of relatively great geographic distances between households and families and, concomitantly, clearly demarcated social boundaries. Physical space or distance in this social organization serves as a boundary-maintaining force only indirectly and incidentally; this is an important consideration, because even when the family units in such a social system unite for temporary amalgamations, they continue to maintain their great social distance from each other. Although the ties of kinship in this social organization may be highly formalized, there are rarely any functioning kin groups outside the family, and kinship ties become increasingly diffuse as the physical distance between kinsmen increases.

One of the material symbolizations of this social atomism or fission is the pattern of narrowed and reluctant sharing, as among the Kaska and Ojibwa Indians. Even when individuals in these societies are willing to extend aid, they are willing to do so only to a very limited number of people. The cultures of such peoples generally contain the ideal prescription of generosity and mutual assistance in times of need, but this ideal is rarely, if ever, achieved; in actual behavior, generosity and assistance are extremely restricted—qualitatively and in the number of persons toward whom such behavior is manifest. Another way of stating this is that behavior with respect to food in such societies approaches parsimoniousness but never quite achieves it, reflecting the atomization of social relationships beyond the nuclear family.

(4) Nonsharing. This is a general category; it has thus far not been possible to determine different types of nonsharing behavior with respect to food, as has been done in connection with patterns of sharing, because there are too few societies in the category of nonsharing from among which discrete types of nonsharing could be elicited.

Here “nonsharing” means the absence in a culture of enforceable prescriptions to share food with others, no matter how great their need; where non-sharing is found as the dominant pattern, the individuated accumulation of wealth is an end in itself, rather than a means to cooperative or competitive generosity. That is, people in many societies, as in the first two categories described above, amass food or other forms of wealth in order to be able to distribute it in socially prescribed forms of generosity, and there is often competition to be the most generous.

In societies characterized by nonsharing, there are rarely, if ever, any closed groups within the community in which membership, feeling of belonging, and reciprocity are fixed and inalienable. Few, if any, institutionally significant statuses are ascribed; authority, group cohesiveness, interfamil-ial support, and mutual assistance are almost always absent. Similarly, allegiances are expedient and frequently contractual. While considerations of kinship appear to play occasional roles in interpersonal associations, such considerations are decidedly secondary; instead, kinsmen and nonkinsmen alike enter into the economically competitive struggle, and personal profit and success emerge as predominant values. Power resides among those who are monetarily powerful rather than among those persons whose social dominance derives from ascribed high status or who have succeeded in other spheres of competitive activity.

Societies characterized by this system superficially resemble societies in which narrowed and reluctant sharing is found, in that the effective socioeconomic unit appears to be the independent nuclear family. The resemblance, however, is superficial. In societies in which nonsharing is the dominant pattern, the social isolation of the family does not derive from physical distance between family units. Instead, the principal isolating factor appears to be the search for individually accumulated wealth. Examples of societies characterized by non-sharing of food are the Alorese, the Marquesans, highland peasants in Jamaica, the Yakut of Siberia, and the Yurok Indians.

The comparative ethnographic data reveal with marked clarity that no matter how highly elaborated a pattern of recurrent exchange and sharing might be, to say nothing of other patterns, in no society is an individual expected to give up everything he possesses. In no society is true “selflessness” an expected or imposed value to which the individual must adhere. For example, among the Arapesh of New Guinea, who have elaborated recurrent exchange to an extreme and among whom a man does not eat food which he himself has grown, personal ownership and rights in property are clearly delineated with definite notions of “mine” and “yours.” The Kwoma, too, who believe that a man would die if he ate his own harvest, also specify individual ownership of the yield of the land, each person’s crop being put in a separate bin in a storehouse. The Copper Eskimo prescribe that even if only one seal is caught, it must be distributed equally throughout the community. However, it has been observed among them that during the winter, when each woman cooks indoors, she can hide the choicer portions of meat for her husband and herself until after visitors have left; in the summer, on the other hand, when most of the cooking is done out-of-doors and everyone can see what is in the pot, no concealment is possible. It can be suggested that the provision in all cultures for personal ownership and retention—no matter how great the pressures to share—is due, at least in part, to the need for material representations of individuation and personal separateness, i.e., self-awareness. As Hallowell noted in his paper “The Self and Its Behavioral Environment,” “It seems necessary to assume self-awareness as one of the prerequisite psychological conditions for the functioning of any human social order, no matter what linguistic and culture patterns prevail” ([1937-1954] 1955, p. 75).

At the same time that the social forces which make for extreme degrees of social proximity maximize predispositions to share food, factors making for social distance within a maximally solidary community will mitigate the predisposition to share. That is, it can be assumed that every society contains some forces, however few and small, which help to make for social distance. In a society in which extreme social proximity helps to produce a pattern of recurrent food sharing, those factors making for social distance in the same society will help to produce a proportionate reluctance to share.

For example, high social status, such as chieftainship, is determined in a variety of ways. It can be postulated that social distance is greater between persons of high and low ascribed statuses than between persons of high and low achieved statuses. Assuming some degree of reluctance in most people to share food with others, even in societies in which people appear strongly predisposed to share, it follows logically that reluctance to share would covary with ascribed high status even in societies in which there is strong social cohesive-ness and solidarity. In other words, it can be assumed that persons with ascribed high status in solidary communities will employ their social distance from the “masses” or “commoners” as a mechanism which enables them to amass and retain more for themselves; this is not necessarily conscious on their part. For example, among the Manuans of Samoa, who have an elaborate hierarchy of chieftainship, a high income is one of the few feudal privileges. Although chiefly wealth is kept in circulation by the requirement that chiefs be generous to commoners, the chiefs nevertheless generally have more food than anyone else. Among the Dahomeans, the economic organization was usually characterized by a surplus which eventually brought about the concentration of wealth in the hands of the hereditary leisure classes.

The evidence is conclusive that patterns in the consumption of food are almost always governed by cultural symbols and that the ways in which food is distributed and consumed reflect a society’s dominant modes of social relationships and groupings, especially those pertaining to kinship ties.




COHEN, YEHUDI A. 1961 Food and Its Vicissitudes: A Cross-cultural Study of Sharing and Nonsharing. Pages 312-350 in Yehudi A. Cohen, Social Structure and Personality: A Casebook. New York: Holt.

COHEN, YEHUDI A. 1964a The Establishment of Identity in a Social Nexus: The Special Case of Initiation Ceremonies and Their Relation to Value and Legal Systems. American Anthropologist New Series 66:529-552.

COHEN, YEHUDI A. 1964b The Transition From Childhood to Adolescence: Cross-cultural Studies of Initiation Ceremonies, Legal Systems, and Incest Taboos. Chicago: Aldine.

DURKHEIM, ÉMILE (1893) 1960 The Division of Labor in Society. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. ⇒ First published as De la division du travail social.

FIRTH, RAYMOND W. (1939) 1965 Primitive Polynesian Economy. 2d ed. Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press.

HALLOWELL, A. IRVING (1937-1954) 1955 Culture and Experience. Philadelphia Anthropological Society, Publications, Vol. 4. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. ⇒ A collection of essays by one of the most influential thinkers in American anthropology; in the classical anthropological tradition but with a strong orientation toward psychological conceptualizations of cultural processes. Included are many papers on the Ojibwa Indians.

MAUSS, MARCEL (1925) 1954 The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. ⇒ First published as Essai sur le don: Forme et raison de I’echange dans les Sociêtês archa-iques.

MEAD, MARGARET (editor) 1937 Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples. New York: McGraw-Hill. ⇒ A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Beacon. Descriptions of social and economic life in thirteen primitive societies, and interpretive chapters by the editor. One of the milestones in comparative studies in anthropology.

RICHARDS, AUDREY I. (1932) 1948 Hunger and Work in a Savage Tribe: A Functional Study of Nutrition Among the Southern Bantu. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. ⇒ A paperback edition was published in 1964 by World Publishing. A classic study of patterns of food consumption in one culture area, but with generalizations of wide applicability.

SAHLINS, MARSHALL D. 1965 On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange. Pages 139-236 in Conference on New Approaches in Social Anthropology, Jesus College, Cambridge, 1963, The Relevance of Models for Social Anthropology. New York: Praeger.

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Food and families are two topics in which everyone claims some expertise. Families are made up of people who eat food. Both families and food contribute to a person's physical and social well being throughout life.

Dictionary definitions of food include terms such as nourishing, sustaining growth, or furnishing energy. People recognize that food is necessary for the physical survival of their families. Although sometimes the purpose of food intake is only to satisfy hunger, the role of food in families goes much further than meeting physical needs.

Food structures families' schedules, provides social activity, defines relationships, and represents ethnic identities. Food is part of family celebrations, ceremonies, and rituals. Food-related health concerns such as malnutrition and obesity impact family members' emotions and their relationships with each other. For some families, food is easily accessible. Other families are starving. Through food demands and concerns, families shape societies and societies influence families. The purpose of this entry is to describe the importance of food to families by examining international examples of the many connections between family and food.

Family Meals

People associate food with family relationships. Debra Lupton (1994), an Australian researcher, found that childhood memories of food were related to social relationships rather than to foods themselves. When requested to write about "food," participants in Lupton's study described emotional themes related to belongingness, happiness, control, and disappointment. In most cultures food is linked with group membership, including belonging to a family. Eating together provides opportunities for family members to interact while sharing the same event or eating similar foods. Family members' interests and activities may vary widely in the areas of work, school, and leisure activities; mealtime provides a common focus.

Many people recognize the importance of family mealtimes, and many factors, including work schedules, school events, and the convenience of restaurants, make eating together a challenge for some families. Attention to the benefits of family meals is not new. In 1943 James H. S. Bossard indicated that the family meal "holds members of the family together during an extended period of time." During mealtimes, noted Bossard, family members interact, enlarging vocabulary, providing information, developing personality, and socializing children. He acknowledged that because family meals represent "families in action," negative as well as positive interactions occur during meals. Similarly, Lupton noted that the family meal itself is not necessarily positive. When family members cooperate, are valued, and positive interactions predominate during meal preparation and eating, the family meal helps establish a sense of security among family members.

Family mealtimes may be a higher priority for some families than for others, and a possible decline in frequency of family meals is a commonly expressed concern. Social problems, ranging from failure in school to delinquency, have been attributed to the decline in family meals. However, a decline in family meals may not be as extensive as feared. An American Dietetic Association (2000) fact sheet indicates that the average family prepares and eats dinner together five nights a week. Obviously, many people are committed to obtaining the benefits of a family meal.

Parents have an impact on what their children eat and how much they eat. Children prefer foods with which they are familiar (Birch 1996). To develop familiarity with and preference for specific food items, children may need to be exposed to that food ten times. Parents have the responsibility of selecting much of the food eaten by very young children. But children also affect the food behaviors of other family members by influencing what is purchased and prepared. Parents want to serve food that their children will eat. According to Gill Valentine (1999), "the power of children shape[s] the consumption practices of a household." Valentine found that differences in food preferences among family members may lead to negotiation and compromise or to the decision to have meals in which family members eat very differently from one another (e.g., vegetarians and meat-eaters).

Parents and children not only impact one another's food choices. The care and love parents demonstrate by purchasing or preparing food for their children is evident; in addition, children also use food to express care and helpfulness to parents. In interviews conducted in California, adolescents between the ages of eleven and fourteen reported cooking for themselves or siblings in order to be helpful to parents. They viewed preparing food at home as making a contribution to family life (Kaplan 2000). Thus, children and parents alike help to create a sense of family by giving and receiving care demonstrated through food.

The adolescents interviewed by Elaine Bell Kaplan (2000) indicated that their mothers were responsible for preparing the evening meals, but the boys described enjoying cooking as much as the girls did. Boys' enjoyment of cooking follows a trend in which men frequently contribute to preparation of family meals. Women still do most of the cooking for families, but men often participate in food preparation. Lupton (2000) found that among rural Australian heterosexual couples, many enjoyed food preparation, although the men who liked to cook were typically middle-aged or younger. Even though women still took the major responsibility for meals, these couples viewed food preparation as part of the division of labor, which they had negotiated, rather than as the duty of the female. Attitudes toward food and gender role patterns, however, may vary from country to country. More gender role segregation in food practices has been reported in British than in Swedish households ( Jansson 1995).

Food preferences and preparation responsibilities are negotiated between husband and wife, as well as between parents and children. People also negotiate and renegotiate food patterns throughout the stages of their own lives. Researchers in Scotland examined changes in eating habits when couples began to live together. Prior to marriage or cohabitation, people shopped for food when they felt like it or needed more food; when they began living together, both meals and shopping became more regular. Women made efforts to improve their husbands' food choices, and men's diets improved. Most couples reported that food was a much more important component of their relationship than they had expected (Kemmer 1998).

As children grow and eventually move out of the household, some parents tend to eat less regular and smaller meals. Parents return to cooking and eating more when children visit. This pattern is particularly characteristic of widowed women, who have experienced loss of social interaction, as well as the satisfaction of providing care through meals (Quandt et al. 1997).

Trends in society include people living longer, an increase in dual-earner and single-parent households, and access to more convenient foods. In addition, many people live alone. Sometimes jobs are located long distances from homes. Therefore, families may have little time or incentive to cook and may choose to eat in restaurants or to bring fully prepared meals into their homes. According to Gisele Yasmeen (2000), few urban Thai families regularly cook meals at home. Because most Thai and Southeast Asian women are in the paid workforce, these families might subscribe to a neighborhood catering network or eat other publicly prepared food. When consumers desire readily available, fully prepared food, industry complies. Increases of fast-food restaurants in Western societies provide an example of both the impact of the consumer on society and society on the consumer. When fully prepared food is available and affordable, families are likely to cook less.

Food content and methods of meal preparation have changed and will continue to change for individuals as they age and for families as their lifestyles change. Nevertheless, meals are an important part of family life in which families experience belonging and continue to pass on culture and traditions to future generations.

Food and Culture

People also connect to their cultural or ethnic group through similar food patterns. Immigrants often use food as a means of retaining their cultural identity. People from different cultural backgrounds eat different foods. The ingredients, methods of preparation, preservation techniques, and types of food eaten at different meals vary among cultures. The areas in which families live— and where their ancestors originated—influence food likes and dislikes. These food preferences result in patterns of food choices within a cultural or regional group.

Food items themselves have meaning attached to them. In many Western countries a box of chocolates would be viewed as an appropriate gift. The recipient of the gift would react differently to a gift of cabbage or carrots than to chocolate. In other countries chocolates might be a less appropriate gift.

Nations or countries are frequently associated with certain foods. For example, many people associate Italy with pizza and pasta. Yet Italians eat many other foods, and types of pasta dishes vary throughout Italy. Methods of preparation and types of food vary by regions of a nation. Some families in the United States prefer to eat "meat and potatoes," but "meat and potatoes" are not eaten on a regular basis, nor even preferred, by many in the United States and would not be labeled a national cuisine. Grits, a coarsely ground corn that is boiled, is eaten by families in the southern United States. A package of grits is only available in the largest supermarkets in the upper Midwest and would have been difficult to find even in large Midwestern supermarkets twenty years ago.

Regional food habits do exist, but they also change over time. As people immigrate, food practices and preferences are imported and exported. Families move to other locations, bringing their food preferences with them. They may use their old recipes with new ingredients, or experiment with new recipes, incorporating ingredients to match their own tastes. In addition, food itself is imported from other countries. Approximately 80 percent of Samoa's food requirements are imported from the United States, New Zealand, or Australia (Shovic 1994). Because people and food are mobile, attempts to characterize a country or people by what they eat are often inaccurate or tend to lump people into stereotypical groups.

Nevertheless, what is considered edible or even a delicacy in some parts of the world might be considered inedible in other parts. Although food is often selected with some attention to physical need, the values or beliefs a society attaches to potential food items define what families within a cultural group will eat. For example, both plant and animal sources may contribute to meeting nutritional requirements for protein; soybeans, beef, horsemeat, and dog meat are all adequate protein sources. Yet, due to the symbolism attached to these protein sources, they are not equally available in all societies. Moreover, even when the foods perceived to be undesirable are available, they are not likely to be eaten by people who have a strong emotional reaction against the potential food item.

Some food beliefs and practices are due to religious beliefs. Around the world, Muslims fast during Ramadan, believed to be the month during which the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, was given from God to the Prophet Muhammad. During this month, Muslims fast during daylight hours, eating and drinking before dawn and after sunset. Orthodox Jews and some conservative Jews follow dietary laws, popularly referred to as a kosher diet, discussed in Jewish scripture. The dietary laws, which describe the use and preparation of animal foods, are followed for purposes of spiritual health. Many followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are vegetarians, in part, because of a doctrine of noninjury or nonviolence. Abstinence from eating meat in these traditions stems from the desire to avoid harming other living creatures. Despite religious food prescriptions, dietary practices vary widely even among those who practice the same faith. Such variations may be due to branches or denominations of a religious group, national variations, and individuals' or families' own degree of orthodoxy or religious adherence.

In addition to impacting food choices, culture also plays a role in food-related etiquette. People in Western societies may refer to food-related etiquette as table manners, a phrase that illustrates the cultural expectation of eating food or meals at a table. Some people eat with forks and spoons; more people use fingers or chopsticks. However, utensil choice is much more complicated than choosing chopsticks, fingers, or flatware. Among some groups who primarily eat food with their fingers, diners use only the right hand to eat. Some people use only three fingers of the right hand. Among other groups, use of both hands is acceptable. In some countries, licking the fingers is polite; in others, licking the fingers is considered impolite (and done only when a person thinks no one else is watching). Rules regarding polite eating may increase in formal settings. At some formal dinners, a person might be expected to choose the "right" fork from among two or three choices to match the food being eaten at a certain point in the meal.

The amount people eat and leave uneaten also varies from group to group. Some people from Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries might leave a little bit of food on their plates in order to indicate that their hunger has been satisfied (Kittler 2001). Cooks from other locations might be offended if food is left on the plate, indicating that the guest may have disliked the food. Similarly, a clean plate might signify either satisfaction with the meal or desire for more food.

Even the role of conversation during mealtime varies from place to place. Many families believe that mealtime is a good time to converse and to "catch up" on the lives of family and friends. Among other families, conversation during a meal is acceptable, but the topics of conversation are limited. In some Southeast Asian countries it is considered polite to limit conversation during a meal (Kittler 2001).

Food plays an important role in the lives of families in most cultures. However, the degree of importance varies from culture to culture. For example, in American Samoa most family activities and ceremonies center on eating. A host family demonstrates its prosperity or societal rank by providing large quantities of food (Shovic 1994). Among other families in other locations, activities and celebrations include food, but food is not necessarily the center of the event.

Food traditions vary widely throughout the world. Even among people who share similar cultural backgrounds and some of the same food habits, eating patterns are not identical. Further, families vary from their own daily routines on holidays, when traveling, or when guests are present. Men eat differently from women. People of different age groups eat differently. However, in most parts of the world, food is associated with hospitality and expression of friendship. Therefore, sensitivity to food rules and customs is important in building and strengthening cross-cultural relationships.

Food Security

Around the world and across ethnic groups, food security greatly influences the meanings, values, and benefits a family associates with food. A family who has food security is able to obtain enough food to avoid hunger. As income rises, a smaller percent of the income is used for food. Families with lower incomes spend a higher proportion of their incomes on food. Throughout the world, more money is spent on food than on other categories of activities. Sometimes families experience food insecurity; for those families, the primary role of food becomes satisfying hunger.

Hunger has negative consequences for children, including anemia, developmental and behavioral problems, and learning difficulties. Under-nourished pregnant women are more likely to have low-birthweight infants who are more likely to experience health and behavior problems. Food insecurity also causes anxiety for parents and children.

Because food is connected with so many social benefits, families who face long-term food insecurity are likely to experience more than physical suffering. Social relationships may be impaired; verbal abilities developed through family mealtime interactions might be less developed; the opportunities to negotiate and compromise food choices may be fewer. Families who are not able to be hospitable may lose social status. Therefore, the impact of food insecurity has far-reaching social, emotional, and developmental consequences for families and children.

Food is part of everyone's life. It affects the structure of family schedules and enhances relationships among family members and between families. Food may be a mark of cultural and religious identity. Culture shapes families' food attitudes and behaviors, and families' needs, beliefs, and behaviors impact culture. Because food is an essential part of families' physical and social lives, examining its role in families helps us to understand families in the context of their cultures.

See also:Communication: Family Relationships; Division of Labor; Eating Disorders; Failure to Thrive; Family Folklore; Home; Housework; Judaism; Religion; Resource Management


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renee a. oscarson

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food What is food? Looked at in biological terms, it would appear that food is merely a source of the energy and nutrients essential for life. However, viewed from an anthropological perspective, it becomes evident that food has played a central role in human history. While the everyday quest for food shaped the life of prehistoric man, the onset of the production of a reliable and sufficient supply of food is likely to have led to the rise of civilizations, and to human population expansion. Furthermore, the ability of man to colonize almost every part of the world is at least in part due to his adaptability with regard to food. Not only are humans omnivorous, they have also shown remarkable ingenuity in identifying and preparing nutritious foods out of unpromising materials. For example, bitter cassava (Manihot esculenta), a root crop that contains toxic levels of cyanide-producing compounds, comprises, after thorough processing, the major food item in the diet of millions of people worldwide.

Food for prehistoric man

The evidence used to determine which foods were eaten by prehistoric man is scarce and can be very difficult to interpret. The majority of clues about food usage come from the study of collections of animal bones, sea-food shell mounds, plant food remnants, and faecal remains, at or close to sites of human habitation. Studies of these food left-overs provide some hints as to what foods were available to and used by prehistoric man.

Until 10–12 000 years before the present (bp), humans relied on hunting and gathering for their food. They hunted wild animals such as gazelle, antelope, and deer, as well as fish, crabs, and migratory waterfowl, and gathered foods including shell-fish, root vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts, and fruit. The period between roughly 11 000 and 6000 years bp, which has been termed the Neolithic, was a time of crucial and widespread agricultural revolution. Wild crops such as wheat and barley began to be cultivated, and wild animals such as sheep and goats were tamed and then domesticated.

This shift from hunting and gathering to domestication and cultivation was very gradual and by no means universal (indeed some small isolated populations continue today to practise hunting and gathering as a mode of subsistence). However, the nature of the diet was altered considerably by the advent of farming. Pre-Neolithic man may well have consumed a large proportion of his diet in the form of animal products, with a lesser contribution coming from plant items. In contrast, the advent of plant cultivation led to certain crops, such as grains and root vegetables, becoming the main, or staple, part of human diets. As a consequence, the diet of Neolithic man was likely to have been dominated by these staple crops, with animal products making a considerably reduced contribution.

Food acquisition by hunting and gathering was time consuming and unpredictable. With the advent of farming, Neolithic man was, for the first time in human history, able to provide himself with a reliable and sufficient source of food. A major consequence of this was that as humans were no longer merely struggling from day to day to find sufficient food to survive; they could devote time to other matters. Most importantly, the availability of sufficient food led to a massive and unprecedented growth in the human population.

Food for modern man

Over the past 2000 years there have been substantial increases not only in the quantity but also in the quality of the food available to man. Early inventions such as new forms of plough enabled the cultivation of virgin lands, and practices such as crop rotation, which allowed soil to become reinvigorated between plantings, significantly increased food production. The mechanization of seed planting, harvesting, and threshing during the Industrial Revolution made agricultural production even more efficient.

However, this enhanced production led to a new set of problems, as it demanded innovative storage techniques and improved transport capabilities to avoid the produce spoiling before it was consumed. Salting and smoking had long been known as methods for preserving foods over extended periods of time. Canning was perfected in the early 1800s and quickly became popular as a convenient, cheap, and safe method of conserving pre-cooked food. Chilling or freezing was originally only available as a method of food preservation to those with a ready supply of ice. However, with the invention of ice-making machines in the 1830s, ice became widely available, and fresh fruit, meat, and fish could be conserved. Finally, the advent of fast and refrigerated transportation enabled fresh foods to be delivered in their original form to consumers around the world.

In order to ensure that the food supplied to the public is of adequate quality, many countries have set up agencies to monitor food safety. These agencies are designed to protect the consumer and improve the health of the public in relation to food by providing advice and information on food consumption. Furthermore, such agencies develop policies relating to food safety, and, by carrying out their own research, monitor relevant developments in science, technology, and other fields of knowledge related to food.

As a result of the slow but continual development of production, preservation, and safety technology, contemporary humans in developed countries have access to an astonishing quantity and diversity of foods. In the past, only locally-produced, in-season foods were available to consumers, but modern technology has now made it possible to supply consumers with foods produced in countries from around the world throughout the year.

Food for thought

The question of whether there is sufficient food to feed the world's ever-increasing population has exercised the minds of philosophers, economists, agronomists, and demographers for many centuries. In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English political economist, wrote a paper entitled An essay on the principle of population, which still provokes heated debate. Malthus suggested that the world's population, growing at a geometric rate, was increasing at a much faster rate than the world's food production, which only increased arithmetically. Malthus argued that if a balance between population and food was not maintained, and the world's population grew to a size that was not sustainable by contemporary food production practices, then the consequence would be widespread famine.

The opposing viewpoint to that of Malthus suggests that increased population size is both a sign and a cause of prosperity, and that flexible and efficient markets can overcome any problems associated with an imbalance between population size and food production. This argument assumes that improving technology via scientific and agricultural innovation will ensure a steady and continual increase in food production. To support this assumption, anti-Malthusians suggest that increased population size will lead to a larger number of farmers tending ever-larger amounts of land, and that this will in turn precipitate innovation in land use and agricultural techniques.

There is good evidence that food production and crop yields have indeed increased sufficiently to cope with the increase in population size, but there are worrying signs that the rate of increase of crop yields is declining. This slowdown is no doubt due to a combination of causes: farmers may well be approaching the absolute maximum possible crop yields, and the cumulative effects of environmental degradation, partly caused by agriculture itself, may also be responsible. Considerable evidence suggests that, at least in some of the world's poorest countries, years of intensive agriculture, often coupled with long periods of drought, have led to the nutrient-exhaustion and desiccation of farming land. Such land is significantly less fertile and quickly becomes unable to support an ever-increasing population. Areas where this has occurred have been labelled demographically entrapped, as their projected population exceeds that which can be fed by local food production capabilities. In the absence of international food aid programmes, these countries, which typically lack trade and migratory safety valves, are thought to be facing uncertain futures of starvation, disease, and internal conflict.

Since Neolithic times, humans have carefully selected and bred plant and animal organisms that have demonstrated favourable traits. These selectively-enhanced descendants, with characteristics such as greater yield or improved flavour, often show little resemblance to the wild varieties. This ancient technology was further exploited between 1960 and 1980, during which laboratory-bred, high-yield cereal grains fed much of the world's expanding human population: the so-called ‘Green Revolution’. However, these increases in yield may have led to environmental degradation through the exhaustion of ecological capital such as topsoil and groundwater. In response to the need for more productive and more environmentally friendly crops, modern advances in biotechnology have produced genetically-modified or GM crops. GM crops typically contain gene alterations which confer agronomic benefits such as resistance to pests or to herbicides. These traits can reduce costs to the farmer and can also be beneficial to the environment, as they theoretically decrease the amount of insecticides and herbicides required. However, while such advances may be extremely useful in balancing world food production with population, there has been considerable public concern about this new technology and much more long-term research is still required.

Ironically, while the health of people in developed countries suffers from an excess of food leading to obesity, many developing countries face a stark future. Recent estimates have suggested that almost one-tenth of the world's population is malnourished in ways that impair health, and that the absolute number of malnourished persons, especially children, continues to grow. It is clear that food will continue to play a crucial role in human history for the foreseeable future.

Alan Dangour


Dyson, T. (1996). Population and food: global trends and future prospects. Routledge, London.
Tannahill, R. (1988). Food in history. Penguin Books, London.

See also alimentary system; diets; eating; energy balance.

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Food is a biological necessity. Like sex, it has implications for the perpetuation of the species, but unlike sex, it also has implications for the survival of each individual. Social anthropologists point out that food is further implicated in the social and cultural survival of human groups. Acquiring and eating food is thus extended into the realms of the economic, political, and psychological.

Human beings are omnivorous, capable of safely eating a particularly wide variety of plant and animal sources of nutrientsa characteristic that has enabled the worldwide distribution of the species. Major, very broad transitions in human modes of living can be traced. Some 10,000 years ago the protracted shift began from foragingcontinually on the move, hunting and gatheringto farmingsettling, domesticating plants, and tending livestock. Then there is the comparatively recent 500-year increase in the movement of both people and foodstuffs around the globe: for example, new people to the Americas, turkeys to Europe. Most recently is the approximately 200 years industrialization of both food productionagriculture, preservation, and processingand food consumptionwholesale and ready-made retail distributionthat has been coupled with and supported by the increasingly intense application of physical, chemical, and biological sciences. The role of food in this long history of human groups is shrewdly summarized by Raymond Firth, who observed that in industrial society, getting food occurs in breaks between work, whereas in nonindustrial society, getting food is the days work (1973).

The contemporary supply and distribution of food worldwide is notoriously unequal and inequitable. Particular attention has been devoted to international policies for the relief of severe and devastating food shortages. A major theme of this work is to note serious disjunctions that have profound consequences for those whose plight is meant to be alleviated. On the one hand are the media images of famine conjured in more-developed countries, typically of children in profound distressimages that then get dovetailed with assumptions embedded in international agencies debates on world food security as to the relief required. On the other hand are what Johan Pottier describes as the everyday realities food-insecure people face (1999). In The Anthropology of Food he includes a simple, but compelling example. Official agricultural programs had no space in their information-gathering exercises in Kenya for the testimony of an elderly woman farmer, reputed in her community to be the most knowledgeable about growing yams. The program was, top down, informed by research scientists knowledge, not local expertise.

Even desperately hungry people need their own food, because, despite being omnivores, people do not eat everything available that is nontoxic and nutritious. This observation is only partly explainable in biological terms. Human groups the world over are observed to be selective in what, culturally speaking, counts as food. Such social definitions of food vary from society to society and they change over time. Familiarly, horse meat is food in Belgium but not in the United States; dog is a delicacy in parts of China but not in France. And on their first introduction to England, tomatoes were regarded as attractive but poisonous, whereas potatoes were initially grown in Sweden only as a garden ornament.

The social definition of food extends to encompass whole cuisinesdistinctive combinations of ingredients and modes of their transformation into dishesand what has been called culinary culture, a shorthand term for the ensemble of attitudes and tastes (both literal and metaphorical) members of a social group bring to cooking and eating food they have selected. Certain cuisines and culinary cultures have a long and persistent history. The beginnings of a Japanese rice-based cuisine, for instance, can be dated from the introduction of wet-rice agriculture over 2,000 years ago. Rice features strongly in eighth-century myths seeking to establish a national identity distinguishing Japan from its neighbors. These stories entailed notions of abundance, a land of good rice harvests. Divine power was incorporated into every grain of rice, symbolizing not only the relation between deities and people, but also of those among human beings themselves. Thus rice became central to commensality, the act of eating together, and thereby cemented and symbolized social relationshipsand a meal without rice could not count as a meal.

The case of rice illustrates the manner in which some have stressed the prime significance of symbols in understanding culinary cultures. By contrast, others have argued that emphasizing the material and practical rather than the symbolic offers superior intellectual interpretations of the variability in social definitions of food. But in a study of the global reach of sugar over four centuries, Sidney Mintz presented a powerful case for a combined approach that recognizes the symbolic significance of a foodstuff while arguing that meaning thus attributed is a consequence of practical human activity (1985). That the meaning of sugar could change from medicine in late-medieval Europe to luxury (like a spice, available only to the exceptionally wealthy) in the early modern period, then to a commonplace necessity to the laboring classes of nineteenth-century Britain, occurred, Mintz argues, as a result of usageand of supplier-induced demand.

The case of rice also introduces the idea of a proper mealone that is culturally appropriately composed, prepared, and served on socially prescribed occasionsa version of which appears to be found in most human groups. A British versionthe caricatured meat and two vegetablescontinues to be readily detectable not only in Britain, but also in its erstwhile colonies in North America, southern Africa, and Australia. Scholars specializing in the study of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century consumption have claimed, however, that allegiance to such traditional modes of eating are disappearing, as part of broader changes of postindustrial society. One element of such changes, they argue, is the proposal that social differentiation is diminishing: No longer are education, income, gender, or age systematically evident in preferred dishes, locales for eating (e.g., expensive restaurants or fast-food diners), or the household division of food-preparation tasks. Another is that the predominant mode of food provision in both household and public settings has become commercial rather than domestic: Coupled with an increase in the rate of eating away from home in cafés, restaurants, and diners is the use at home of ready-made complete meals rather than dishes prepared from raw ingredients. And a third elementfinding frequent expression in popular and journalistic commentaries claiming that families no longer gather round the table to share a mealis that institutional rhythms are subject to erosion. Substantiating these claims adequately is difficult, however, and determining the extent to which they apply remains incomplete.

What is clear, though, is that the twenty-first-century food supply is global, providing populations in more developed countries with year-round fresh produce from less developed countries and an apparently ever widening range of products on supermarket shelves, with consumer choice as a watchword. Critics point to the environmental as well as social costs, for example in the diversion of comparatively limited local supplies of water to agricultural production for export markets, or the additional carbon emissions of air freight. Trends such as this are paralleled by a strikingly rapid increase in rates of obesity in a growing number of countries. Some commentators are even predicting that a generation of children will suffer fatal diseases associated with obesityfor example, diabetes and heart diseaseto such an extent that they may even predecease their parents. This kind of public concern looks set to supplant the food-safety scares that dominated the last two decades of the twentieth century, the most dramatic and most costly example of which was bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease, responsible for an invariably fatal disease if eaten by human beings. Public health policies, especially those geared to limiting the rates of obesity, are not readily aligned with economic policies supporting industrialized food production and the associated provision of employment. This essential, but in its current incarnation highly contested, sphere of human existence represents a considerable intellectual challenge to the still comparatively small number of social scientists seeking to understand its myriad facets.

SEE ALSO Food Crisis; Malnutrition


Firth, Raymond. 1973. Food Symbolism in a Pre-Industrial Society. In Symbols, Public and Private. London: Allen and Unwin.

Mennell, Stephen. 1985. All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking Penguin.

Pottier, Johan. 1999. Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Security. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Warde, Alan. 1997. Consumption, Food, and Taste: Cultural Antimonies and Commodity Culture. London: Sage.

Anne Murcott

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Proper nutrition is central to the maintenance of good health. The primary purpose of a diet, whether on Earth or in orbit, is to provide adequate levels of essential nutrients and energy. However, nutritional requirements change under microgravity conditions and diets need to reflect these changes. There are a number of physical constraints on the presentation and preparation of foods during piloted space missions. These include issues of weight, volume, preparation time, and waste generation. The psychosocial benefits of mealtime on motivation and morale also must be considered.

Food products for spaceflight need to be safe, easy to prepare and consume, compact, and produce little waste. For short-term missions of two weeks or less, such as those of Apollo and the space shuttle, foods are stored at room temperature. Food products are thermostabilized , freeze-dried, or specially packaged to prevent microbial spoilage. Water is plentiful on spacecraft that use fuel cells, so dried foods are easily rehydrated for consumption. Many of the precooked foods are commercially available canned or foil-packaged products.

Longer missions, such as Skylab and the International Space Station, are provided with refrigerated-and frozen-food storage units. Short-duration missions are characterized by intense workloads for the crew. Little time is available for food preparation and meals. Many of the food products available require no preparation and are provided as individual portions. Early missions used food products packaged in tubes that could be squeezed into the mouth. Apollo used hot water (about 65°C [150°F]) to warm foods. The space shuttle has a small convection oven to warm foods at temperatures of 145 to 185°C [293 to 365°F]. No cooking is done during spaceflight. For longer missions, more preparation time and effort is acceptable.

Lifting materials into orbit and beyond is costly, making weight and volume considerations important. Dehydrated foods help to limit these costs. The consumption of foods is made simpler in a microgravity environment by providing bite-sized products or by using special packaging. Crumbs and splatters disperse throughout the cabin on orbit, so their generation must be minimized. Given the closed environment of the spacecraft, food odors also should be minimized.

Space Diets

Space shuttle astronauts meet with dieticians well before the start of their mission to design a suitable diet. Menus are chosen from a list of more than 100 foods and beverages. Many of these are prepackaged, widely available, and familiar food products. Fresh fruits can be included. Tortillas act as a bread substitute to limit the generation of crumbs. Beyond the menu chosen by each astronaut, a communal pantry is stocked with a variety of snack foods and an extra two-day supply of food. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station can choose from an even richer variety of foods. Approximately one-quarter of the foods are ethnic or international in origin. The menu rotates through a twenty-eight-day cycle. The station also has a "salad machine" to grow fresh lettuce and salad greens onboard. This technology has been tested and used on the space shuttle and on the Mir space station.

The Impact of Diet During Short-Duration Missions

For short-duration missions, nutritionists follow the basic U.S. National Research Council recommended daily allowance guidelines. Additional considerations are necessary for long-duration missions. Studies have found that individuals who consume the space shuttle diet on the ground obtain proper energy intakes and no loss of lean body mass. However, during shuttle missions adequate energy intake is an issue, mainly because of decreased food consumption. In part this can result from space adaptation syndrome, which causes malaise, vomiting, and the loss of fluids and electrolytes . A more prevalent cause may be the excitement of spaceflight and the demanding work schedule. Astronauts simply do not take the time to eat proper meals while on orbit. During spaceflight, liquid intake is generally too low. Microgravity causes bodily fluids to redistribute. It is possible that thirst is not triggered in the same way under these altered physiological conditions.

Changes in Nutritional Needs During Longer Missions

Over the course of longer missions, studies have identified a variety of physiological changes that may reflect changes in nutritional needs. The most striking changes are the loss of minerals from the bones and a decrease in muscle mass. There are changes in the metabolism of calcium that leads to bone loss. The cause is unclear, but may be due to reduced load on the bones in the absence of gravity, reduced Vitamin D production in the absence of ultraviolet -rich sunlight, and changes in fluid balances and endocrine function. Nitrogen balance also is affected during long-duration spaceflight, and this, combined with changes in energy metabolism due to endocrine alterations, may be responsible for the loss of muscle mass that has been observed.

The Challenges of Very-Long-Duration Missions

Very-long-duration flights, covering years, such as a human expedition to Mars, pose unique challenges. As the length of the voyage extends past several months, it becomes increasingly cost-effective to grow foodstuffs in the spacecraft rather than launching with a full supply of foods. Closed ecological life support systems would provide the crew with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, as well as provide food and potable water. Vegetarian diets are under consideration that include a limited number of hydroponic crops such as rice, wheat, potatoes, and soybeans. Fewer crops are easier to manage, but a diet lacking in variety is less palatable. It will be important to develop the means to create a variety of food products from each crop. Soybeans can provide soy milk, tofu, tempe, and other products. Extensive use of spices also can be helpful.

As mission lengths increase, it is likely that the crew's emphasis on food and mealtimes will increase, a phenomenon observed at the permanent station at the South Pole and during the two-year enclosure of people in the closed environment of Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. The psychosocial benefits of feasting are likely to become more important as the distance between the crew and Earth increases and real-time communication and interaction with Earth decreases. In addition, cumulative nutrient deficiencies become more important over long time spans. Food processing can affect nutrient availability and protein digestibility. Cumulative toxicological effects may be observed as a result of by-products of food processing, storage, or water recycle. Extensive ground-based testing will need to be performed to ensure a safe food supply for long-duration human space missions.

see also Biosphere (volume 3); Communities in Space (volume 4); Food Production (volume 4); Living in Space (volume 3); Living on Other Worlds (volume 4); Long-Duration Spaceflight (volume 3); Microgravity (volume 2).

Mark A. Schneegurt


Eckart, Peter. Spaceflight Life Support and Biospherics. Torrance, CA: Microcosm Inc.;Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996.

Holick, Michael F. "Perspective on the Impact of Weightlessness on Calcium and Bone Metabolism." Bone 22, no. 5., supplement (1998):105S-111S.

Lane, Helen W. "Nutrition in Space: Evidence from the U.S. and the U.S.S.R." Nutrition Reviews 50 (1992):3-6.

Lane, Helen W., Barbara L. Rice, Vickie Kloeris, et al. "Energy Intake, Body Weight, and Lean Body Mass Are Maintained in Healthy, Active Women Consuming the U.S. Space Shuttle Diet." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 94 (1994): 87-88.

Lane, Helen W., S. M. Smith, Barbara L. Rice, et al. "Nutrition in Space: Lessons from the Past Applied to the Future." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 60, supplement (1994):801S-805S.

Seddon, M. Rita, Martin J. Fettman, and Robert W. Phillips. "Practical and Clinical Nutritional Concerns during Spaceflight." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 60, supplement (1994):825S-830S.

Stadler, Connie R., et al. "Food System for Space Shuttle Columbia. " Journal of the American Dietetic Association 80 (1982):108-114.

Stein, T. P., M. J. Leskiw, and M. D. Schulter. "Diet and Nitrogen Metabolism during Spaceflight on the Shuttle." Journal of Applied Physiology 81 (1996):82-97.

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Russian food is typically hearty in taste, with mustard, horseradish, and dill among the predominant condiments. The cuisine is distinguished by the many fermented and preserved foods necessitated by the short growing season of the Russian North. Foraged foods, especially mushrooms, are important to Russian diet and culture. The Russians excel in the preparation of a wide range of fresh and cultured dairy products; honey is the traditional sweetener.

Russian cuisine is known for its extensive repertoire of soups and pies. The national soup (shchi ) is made from cabbage, either salted or fresh. Soup is traditionally served at the midday meal, accompanied by an assortment of small pies, croutons, or dumplings. The pies are filled with myriad combinations of meat, fish, or vegetables, and are prepared in all shapes and sizes. The Russian diet tends to be high in carbohydrates, with a vast array of breads, notably dark sour rye, and grains, especially buckwheat.

Many of Russia's most typical dishes reflect the properties of the traditional Russian masonry stove, which blazes hot after firing and then gradually diminishes in the intensity of its heat. Breads and pies were traditionally baked when the oven was still very hot. Once the temperature began to fall, porridges could cook in the diminishing heat. As the oven's heat continued to subside, the stove was ideal for the braised vegetables and slow-cooked dishes that represent the best of Russian cooking.

The Orthodox Church had a profound influence on the Russian diet, dividing the year into feast days and fast days. The latter accounted for approximately 180 days of the year. Most Russians took fasting seriously, strictly following the proscriptions against meat and dairy products.

From the earliest times the Russians enjoyed alcoholic beverages, especially mead, a fermented honey wine flavored with berries and herbs, and kvas, a mildly alcoholic beverage made from fermented bread or grain. Distilled spirits, in the form of vodka, appeared only during the fifteenth century, introduced from Poland and the Baltic region.

The reforms carried out by Peter I greatly affected Russian cuisine. The most significant development was the introduction of the Dutch range, which relied on a cooktop more than oven chambers and resulted in more labor-intensive cooking methods. The vocabulary introduced into Russian over the course of the eighteenth century reveals influences from the Dutch, German, English, and ultimately French cuisines. By the close of the eighteenth century, Russia's most affluent families employed French chefs. With so much foreign influence, Russian cuisine lost its simple national character. The eighteenth-century refinements broadened Russian cuisine, ushering in an era of extravagant dining among the wealthy.

The sophistication of the table was lost during the Soviet period, when much of the populace subsisted on a monotonous diet low in fresh fruits and vegetables. Shopping during the Soviet era was especially difficult, with long lines even for basic foodstuffs. Hospitality remained culturally important, however, and the Soviet-era kitchen table was the site of the most important social exchanges.

The collapse of the Soviet state brought numerous Western fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, to Russia. With the appearance of self-service grocery stores, shopping was simplified, and food lines disappeared. However, food in post-Soviet Russia, while plentiful and widely available, was expensive during the early twenty-first century.

See also: agriculture; caviar; peter i; russian orthodox church; vodka


Glants, Musya, and Toomre, Joyce, eds. (1997). Food in Russian History and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Goldstein, Darra. (1999). A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, 2d ed. Montpelier, VT: Russian Life Books.

Herlihy, Patricia. (2002). The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka and Politics in Late Imperial Russia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Molokhovets, Elena. (1992). Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' A Gift to Young Housewives, tr. Joyce Toomre. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Darra Goldstein

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This entry consists of the following articles:

Food: Ash
Food: Baklava
Food: Borek
Food: Bulgur
Food: Chelow
Food: Coffee
Food: Couscous
Food: Dolma
Food: Felafel
Food: Ful
Food: Hummus
Food: Kufta
Food: Mansaf
Food: Mazza
Food: Muhammara
Food: Mujaddara
Food: Mulukhiyya
Food: Olives
Food: Pilaf
Food: Shashilik
Food: Shawarma
Food: Shish Kebab
Food: Tabbula
Food: Tahina
Food: Tajin

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food Any material containing nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which are required by living organisms in order to obtain energy for growth and maintenance. Heterotrophic organisms, such as animals, ingest their food (see also diet); autotrophic organisms, such as plants, manufacture their food materials.

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food what is taken to support life. Late OE. fōda :- *fōðan-, a unique formation, the synon. words in other Gmc. langs. being f. *fōðjan FEED. viz. ON. fœði, fœða, Goth. fōdeins; f. Gmc. *fōð- *fað- :- IE. *pat-, as in Gr. patéesthai eat.

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food / foōd/ • n. any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth: cans of cat food | baby foods. PHRASES: food for thought something that warrants serious consideration.

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food Material ingested to maintain life and growth. Important substances in food include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. See also food chain

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"food." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (June 28, 2017).

"food." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from


foodallude, brood, collude, conclude, crude, delude, dude, elude, étude, exclude, extrude, exude, feud, food, illude, include, intrude, Jude, lewd, mood, nude, obtrude, occlude, Oudh, preclude, protrude, prude, pseud, pultrude, rood, rude, seclude, shrewd, snood, transude, unglued, unsubdued, who'd, you'd •habitude •magnitude • seafood • wholefood •Quaalude • postlude • interlude •Ermintrude • Gertrude • unvalued •prelude • quietude • hebetude •longitude • amplitude •similitude, verisimilitude •solitude • plenitude • finitude •decrepitude • turpitude • pulchritude •crassitude, lassitude •solicitude, vicissitude •attitude, beatitude, gratitude, latitude, platitude •exactitude • sanctitude • aptitude •rectitude • ineptitude • promptitude •fortitude • multitude • certitude •servitude • consuetude

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"food." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 28 Jun. 2017 <>.

"food." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (June 28, 2017).

"food." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from