ANTHROPOLOGY AND FOOD. What distinguishes the anthropological study of food from that of other disciplines is its focus on food within a cultural and often cross-cultural context. Anthropologists study humans and human culture across space and evolutionary time; this includes the study of their own culture and social institutions. Subfields of the anthropological study of food include cultural, linguistic, biological, and archaeological anthropology. Research in nutritional anthropology cuts across these subfields. Food requires hunting, gathering, growing, storage, distribution, preparation, display, serving, and disposal, all of which are social activities. Topics for the anthropological study of food within a cultural system include economy, inequality, gender, status, hunter-gatherers, and food as a symbol.
Of basic interest to archaeologists is the diet or subsistence pattern of the peoples they study. Since seasonal patterns of movement are often linked to subsistence regimes, archaeologists frequently study the overall settlement-subsistence pattern. Other major topics of study related to food are the origins of agriculture, the process of plant and animal domestication, and the study of foodways (food in a social and cultural setting). With the help of interdisciplinary teams of specialists, archaeologists examine a variety of evidence such as animal bones (faunal analysis or zooarchaeology), plant remains (paleoethnobotany or archaeobotany), human bones (osteology), residues (chemistry), and the settlement system. Faunal and paleoethnobotanical analyses are able to determine diet (which animals and plants were eaten) as well as hunting, gathering, butchering, and preparation techniques, the identity of preferred or high-status foods, the seasonality of site occupation and diet items, and whether the animals/plants were domesticated. The phrase "You are what you eat" is true in that what you eat forms the
Topics in biological anthropology range from biological and nutritional questions about humans and primates (e.g., questions of nutrition, health, and evolution of human and primate physiology and diet ) to cultural practices and choices that affect biology and nutrition (e.g., dietary strategies and food selection choices). Cross-disciplinary themes include the process of human adaptation, population variation, and health. In many societies, medicine is not distinguished from food. Human digestive systems, the substances upon which humans feed, and medicinal natural substances are closely intertwined and are the result of a co-evolution.
Linguistic anthropologists study human perception and communication, finding a close connection between how
Cultural anthropologists pioneered the method of ethnographic data collection wherein the anthropologist lives among and participates in the daily life of the native culture over a period of months or years. Ethnographers attempt to situate the study of food within a community or culture, seeking to explain the interrelation between food systems and human behavior. Frameworks for the study of food include but are not limited to economy, political economy, cultural ecology, inequality, gender, ethnicity, households, policy formulation, biodiversity, hunter-gatherers, urbanization, and food as symbol. Cross-cultural research compares food and food systems in different cultures, most recently through multisited studies.
Ethnobotany and Ethnobiology
Ethnobotany (study of the relationships between plants and peoples) and ethnobiology (study of the relationships between living organisms and humans) draw on the resources of each of the subdisciplines of anthropology as well as from other fields such as chemistry, botany, pharmacology, zoology, entomology, engineering, and so on. A major concern of these disciplines is intellectual property rightsho should be compensated, and how they should be compensated, for sharing their traditional knowledge about plants and animals or for sharing the results of breeding plants or animals.
See also Agriculture, Origins of; Ethnobotany; Ethnopharmacology; Food Production, History of; Foodways; Nutritional Anthropology; Paleonutrition, Methods of; Prehistoric Societies.
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Gail E. Wagner
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