The Taste of Culture

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There is no doubt that food is an important part of any culture; in many ways, people express their heritage through food. However, it goes beyond the different food types and cuisines of each country or region; rather food plays a big role in social dynamics and cultural practices of different people.

You could say that what people eat and how they eat it is greatly influenced by their culture; in other words, the way they have been brought up. In that respect, a culture or social behavior has a great impact on a person’s lifestyle and health.

In some cultures, the healthiest of them all, as in Okinawa, Japan, the cuisine is very healthy; they live primarily on fruits, vegetables, and fish. As their lifestyle is very active and their diet is very healthy, Okinawa has some of the longest living people in the world, and most definitely some of the healthiest.

What is more interesting is the social dynamics and culture of Okinawa when it comes to food. It is actually socially unacceptable to overeat on a dinner table in Okinawa. As their work and livelihood depends on every member of the society being fit and active, it is deemed socially unacceptable to gain weight. In other words, this is a culture where what they eat is very healthy and their social behavior is conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

In other cultures, it is a bit of a mystery how people are mostly healthy. The case of French women, for instance, has been an interest of many researchers, simply due to the fact that the French cuisine is not healthy at all. Though infamous for their love of butter, French women seem to be generally quite thin, which has led to lots of questions.

Here, we realize that culture and social behavior play a very big role. The French are raised to enjoy food, enjoy the taste, the texture, the complexity of their cuisine, but more importantly in this case, they are taught to stop eating as soon as they start feeling full. American diners always complain about the portion sizes at French restaurants, but it is solely due to the fact that the French are intrinsically unable to overeat.

That is why they will want to enjoy a mouthwatering appetizer, a sophisticated main dish, and a delicious dessert; all full of butter. Nevertheless, they will not want to get full before their meal ends; hence, the small portions. The French have demonstrated how a culture can have an unhealthy cuisine but social habits that will make its people primarily in good shape.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find cultures like ours, the Egyptians, where the cuisine is not healthy and neither is the culture of eating. We have all been invited by generous and loving family and friends, who insist on feeding us far more than any person’s stomach needs or can tolerate; most probably, we have all been guilty of it ourselves at some point.

It is, after all, a big part of our generous and hospitable culture and identity. Unfortunately, this has produced generations upon generations of unhealthy people, low life expectancy rates, and a high prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. But hope is not lost; here are some ways to respectfully eat less the next time you are invited for a big feast:

1. Always keep half of your plate full of salad. This way the host will not have a lot of space to fill your plate with other food.

2. Eat very slowly. The host will want to see that you have food on your plate and that you are eating at any given time.

3. When you are done, leave the table. They cannot feed you in the washroom.

4. Be genuine and complement them a lot on how delicious the food is. Make sure to mention every item on the table to demonstrate that you have tried them all.

Our culture is one to cherish. We are generous and loving people, and it is important that we appreciate that and respect it. It is also important, for our health, that we are able to take the best of it and respectfully stay away from the worst. As the French have taught us, we can enjoy our delicious food and still stay healthy.

References
Robbins, John (2006). Healthy at 100. New York: Random House.
Guiliano, Mireille (2004). French Women Don't Get Fat. New York: Knopf.


*The original article was published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Winter 2014 Issue.

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