Food is the power of the world. It drives the human mind and body, driving and developing the world that we live in today. Observing this universal use of food, we see astounding differences in its custom; whether it’s in the context of taste, consumption, historical or economic context. Though with the globalization of the world’s markets, especially food, why aren’t we all consuming or accessing the same kinds of food? The affective factor: culture and its encompassing inclusion of the differences in people, and the values they hold. Reasons for these differences are especially clear when we take a closer look at the importance, value, and culture of food in the context of individual countries.
Our first trip is to Asia, taking a look at the cuisine on the other side of the world. A stop at Thailand; Thai cuisine echoes the country’s proximity to the ocean with aquatic animals playing a large role in a wide number of their dishes, and rice is paramount in the region. Beyond these, plants and herbs make a notable appearance in the common cuisine. Many Thais combine the tastes of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy into one meal. Dessert is often made using fruit or rice.
Due to the country’s Buddhist background, large cuts of meat are not typically used in cooking. Instead, meat is often shredded and combined with herbs and spices. Stewing, baking, and grilling were all traditional preparation techniques, but over time, countries including Japan, China, and Portugal have influenced preparation styles and content.
Thailand imports a vast amount of its food. In fact, it’s number 20 on the list of countries to which the U.S. exports food . At the same time, Thailand is one of the world’s leading suppliers of rice, sugar, shrimp, and pineapple.
For many Thais, eating alone is considered to be bad luck. Eating is a social occasion in Thailand, and people share the dishes they buy with the people with whom they’re eating. Thai food isn’t served in different courses as customary in western culture, and instead is served all at once. Thai culture emphasises a harmony of tastes in each dish and throughout the entire meal.
Traditional Thai dish crispy pork with a fried egg atop the jasmine rice served with chili sauce. Courtesy of: 123rf.com
Our next visit will be to the Northeast of Asia. the food culture here is highly connected with religious perspective; both Buddhism and Confucianism, emphasizing nature-friendly cultivation. According to Chinese legend, chopsticks were invented by a Confucian philosopher in 500 B.C. because forks and knives were considered symbols of war. China, Korea, and Japan have similar religious and cultural backgrounds in cuisine, due to their history of trade.
The region’s food focuses on myriad tastes in one dish; fats, oils, and sauces are emphasized in cooking. Stir-fry has been a popular way to cook Chinese food, whereas grilling and boiling are customary in Korean food. Japanese food has been connected with deep-frying or raw foods, but modern daily meals in Northeast Asia have been influenced by globalization and western cultures.
The prices of food ingredients in our Northeast Asian countries are lower than in the U.S. and European countries, but are found to be higher than those in other Asian nations, but vary depending city and region of country. Interestingly, Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo are surprisingly high compared to the prices found in New York City. This is most probably due to the high level in food import, with China leading the world. Though, Korea and Japan both import meats and vegetables from America, China, and other Asian countries.
Nigiri shusu photo by Jerry Doughut@flickr
On to Europe, where we will first take a taste of German cuisine. Typically, when one thinks of Germany, it’s unlikely that food is the first cultural aspect to come to mind. Contrary to popular thoughts, Germany has a very diverse selection; ranging from the simple pork and potatoes, to a variety of seafood dishes. Cooking styles vary per region, with a particularly vast difference between the East and West.
German cuisine consists of three main foods: meat, “Grundnahrungsmittel” (a staple food typically bread or potatoes), and some vegetable (such as asparagus or cabbage). German meals are generally separated into breakfast, lunch, and dinner like in the U.S. Though, in Germany, lunch is typically the largest meal as compared to dinner in the U.S.
Meals in Germany are usually social events and drinks are served with most. The most common alcoholic beverages are beer, brandy, and schnapps. German beer is widely known as the best in the world, due to the government ruling of Deutsche Reinheitsgebot in the sixteenth century. This “law of purity” required all beers to be made with the same three ingredients: water, hops, and barley.
One of the most prominent differences between German and American food cultures is found in shopping practice. In most cases, Americans will take the one-stop-shop approach and go to large supermarkets to buy everything. In Germany, shopping is a longer process. Though Germans have supermarkets, it is normal for the average citizen to go to two or three different stores (such as bakeries or butchers) in one trip.
Traditional German Plate: sausage, potatoes, and vegetables Courtesy of: http://afifaskana.com/
A quick hop on the train and we are in France. The French are widely known as the cuisine experts of the world. The culture is strong, and valued highly among its citizens. Known famously for their cheeses, breads, pastries, and wine, they hold “haute” standards for the quality and exclusiveness of their products. For example, carbonated wine is legally only allowed to be called champagne if it is produced and exported from the champagne area in the French countryside. Their ability to produce the only real champagne in the world is a staple of France’s exclusivity when it comes to production.
Their largest food exports solidify their reputation in their renowned areas of production. According to the OEC, France’s 7th largest overall export is wine, making up nearly two percent of its $532 billion in exports, securing them as the number one exporter of wine in the world. At number 13, holding the number five spot in world wheat exportation. Not far behind, at 15th is hard liquor, number two exporter in the world. Finally we land on cheese at number 20. This may be a surprise to some, as France is widely known for their cheese. But the differences in pasteurization laws (although the gap in law is closing drastically) governing French cheese have affected its ability to be exported, especially to the United States.
It is bread though, that has had the greatest affect on French cuisine. The casual veins of the French Revolution run deep into the heart of humanitarianism, but interestingly enough, bread had a provocative effect on the efforts as well. Bread was the staple of the common man’s diet, and royalty was in its control. According to Sylvia Neely’s A Concise History of the French Revolution, the average 18th-century worker spent half of his daily wage on bread. Then wheat crops failed in 1788-89, expenditure rose to 88% of the common worker’s wage. Commoners placed blame on their monarchist government, and the bread crisis served to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, igniting revolution.
To the dismay of the French people and their cuisine, its artistry and presence in the world has been declining vastly since even the ‘60s, according to the New York Times. Globalization has been tough on the classic French cuisine, though the innovation and evolution it has inspired is overshadowed by the fact that France has been McDonald’s second most profitable market. French food culture has impacted cuisines all over the world, and it is far from disappearance.
Du vin, du frômage, du pain, Courtesy of: http://thedish.restaurant.com/
Flying south, we find ourselves in India, where approximately half of Indian people eat rice as their staple food. Others consume wheat, barley, maize and millet. Some of India’s foods are from thousands of years ago such as wild grains, herbs and plants. A lot of food that is still popular in Indian culture today are from the Indus time period, including those mentioned above. The Indus valley people cooked with ginger, green peppers, oil, and turmeric root that was grounded down into an orange powder-like substance. Today, most Indian food is cooked using turmeric.
When Arayan speaking people entered India, leafy veggies, lentils, milk products and spices such as cumin and coriander were introduced. Compared to the United States, food in India is much more flavorful because of the variety of spices used. Food in India is usually made with up to twenty-five spices per meal! Their flavors are very elaborate and distinct to their culture.
Depending on their religion, Indian people will consume meat. If they are Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Christians, then they all eat meat. However if they are a lower class Hindu, they will eat any meat but beef. Hindus of the highest class are more often than not vegetarian and rarely even consume eggs.
With most of the population living in rural areas, about 73% of people rely on farming for employment. They sell many crops in urban markets within India and mainly export tea, coffee and a spice called cardamom. However, agriculturally, India is far behind their economic potential due to lack of technology and negative government involvement of labor, land and credit markets. Overall, these impacts are causing India’s potential economic growth to suffer.
Traditional Indian curry chicken Courtesy of: recipes.sparkpeople.com
Finally, a look at world nutrition. Many countries not only utilize and consume products differently depending on the culture, but also control these products with their own rules and regulations. Many rules and regulations typically aim to meet specific sanitation and overall health requirements. In European countries, food safety guidelines seek to use minimal processing and prefer to utilize more traditional methods for growing and preparing food.
In comparing a culture such as the United States to a culture of an Asian or European country, dietary consumption and nutritional sources seem to greatly differ. When taking a closer look at the Mediterranean diet, which is more popular in Greek and Italian culture, it becomes quite obvious how factors such as processed and genetically modified foods serve as part of the problem for obesity in the U.S. Mediterranean dietary practices mostly consist of fresh homegrown vegetables, and also consist of little to no processed foods.
Access to food is another key factor that drives what, when, and how much people in different countries eat. In the U.S. food is located on every corner and in every direction that we turn. The problem is that fast and easily accessible food too often consists of a high caloric intake and very minimal nutritional value. In most other cultures, physical activity plays a major role in transportation for access to food, seemingly fighting off obesity one step at a time.
By: Conner Slater, George Ash, hayden Huff, Thomas Hyun, Lauren Imbierowicz, Mark McCord