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Dishing Up Culture


Food as a Representation of Place

Food is a carrier of culture. This makes sense: we all have to eat, after all, and what we eat depends on what grows in our area, and how we are able to harvest and prepare it. Methods of food harvesting and preparation quickly become part of our traditions and daily life.

But after centuries of industrialization, globalization, and commercialization, food has lost its regional boundaries. We no longer need to travel to India to get palak paneer or Italy to get fresh Italian pasta--we just have to look up a restaurant or go to a grocery store.

Despite this reality, we continue to view food as an integral part of a region’s culture, and consider eating “authentic” regional dishes to an integral part of our visit. How do images of food and food production have such lasting power over our perceptions of place? Even if those perceptions have little or no grounding in reality, how do images of food still have such an immediate and strong connection to a place, and to deeper ideas about its culture?

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