Term Paper: Food Ritual Observance - A Prescribed Formal

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¶ … Food Ritual Observance - a Prescribed Formal Behavior

Food ritual observance took place June 7, 2007 during a snack break with friends on campus, following an intense study session. There were four participants total, two males and two females. The foods consumed included a croissant, biscotti, an apple and a bag of trail mix. The time the study took place was 1pm in the afternoon. Students reported having eaten a late breakfast, at 10pm. The environment was casual and relaxed. Participants were dressed in jeans, t-shirts and other casual affair. The women had make up on, very minimally but noticeable.

What role did the participants take on?

The male participants seemed to take on a dominant role during the snack break. They initiated conversations, which the two women followed up on, responding in turn, contributing as one might expect. This correlates with Flynn's analysis of food ritual behaviors, which seem to suggest patriarchal relationships are often reinforced in food-related customs (Coen Flynn 84).

What role did you have as a participant?

In this study, I served as a participant observing the role or food ritual, by being a distanced observer and a participant. Even through the simple act of attending the food ritual, I became a participant. I sat approximately two table away from the participants observed in the study.

What is the larger context for this event/ceremony?

The larger context for this event is evaluating how peers interact during a casual or informal food ritual, in this case taking a break from studying to enjoy 15 minutes of informal banter. Even more specifically, the context is observing how females and males routinely interact during informal food rituals such as this.

Where is the event taking place? Describe the context.

The event is taking place in the student lounge on the main campus. There are several vendors available, including a coffee shop. Several large couches are available for students to study comfortably. The context suggests the participants were in a comfortable environment where they felt they could easily express themselves naturally and without inhibition.

What are the stereotyped sequences of activities involved?

Turner also described ritual as "a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests" (Turner 1977a:183). In this case, the "stereotyped" sequences of activities involved included the males talking more loudly and boisterously than the females, and initiating more of the conversation. The women at times during the break would talk with one another on subjects different from that of their male counterparts. The women sat close to one another, while the males had more space between them; the women seemed more comfortable being "near" each other than the males.

Can you apply the concepts of taboo and mana to activities, objects, and actions observed?

Women seemed more reluctant to eat higher fat foods, one consuming an apple for example and diet coke, whereas the men were more likely to not guard against eating "forbidden" or taboo foods or mana. The males exhibited more freedom, perhaps an expression of cultural norms that seem to emphasize how important it is for women to be skinny. While the men tended to devour their snacks without a second thought, it seemed clear the female participants picked their food and ate less than their male peers.

Assignment #2 Commodity Chain Analysis

The food item selected for this commodity chain analysis is trail mix. Trail mix is a common "snack" food eaten by people and comes in many forms, including a mixture of nuts, raisins, seeds, dried fruits, and sometimes now chocolates or other sweet ingredients. A commodity chain analysis helps assess food as a product of political and economic processes (Kendall, 2007).

Commodity Chain Overview

This commodity chain overview helps explain the processes involved in moving product from the producer, manufacturer and distributors to individual consumers. By understanding this process, one can better understand the factors influencing consumer buying behaviors and other behaviors associated with use of various commodities.

The commodity chain analysis represents a traditional pattern of transference of product to consumer. General Mills Inc. tends to follow a pattern common to most manufacturers interested in increasing their economic value and taking advantage of the market at hand by advertising their products in a directed way. Trail mix is a food that many view as, "healthy" or, "energetic" or, "quick and easy." These concepts can be quickly integrated into their political and economic systems to help them market their commodity to a larger population.

Assignment #3 Symbolic System Analysis

The food item discussed is trail mix, a seemingly benign food item. However, symbolic system analysis reveals that any food, even something as simple as this, has deep cultural and symbolic meanings. Part of this meaning links directly with the manner the products are marketed and merchandised. Another factor contributing to the symbolic meaning people attach to food is the way the food is used, and whether it is considered a staple or necessary item or one that is disposable and of insignificance to one's survival. College students, as the ones reviewed in this study, may review trail mix as more of a staple, whereas traditional organic consumers may review it as a natural, organic and healthy food, if not overly processed.

The cultural meanings associated with this foot item vary. Trail mix is considered a "staple" snack particularly for individuals who are "on the go" or individuals engaged in rigorous physical activity, as it is marketed as a product for energy. I think cultural norms dictate that such foods are best reserved for individuals requiring a high-energy snack. This seems indicative of cultural norms within the U.S. that seem to promulgate the idea that people need to be "on-the-go" and need greater reserves of energy. This is equally applicable to college students, as seen by participant observations in section one, and also seen in the way the product is advertised or marketed to the public at large.

Symbolic systems are somewhat linked to the idea of a common lifestyle or global village as suggested by Roark (2007) in the class readings. Such systems suggest that individuals with a common lifestyle, an active of busy lifestyle, whether that relates to an active school life or an activity physical life, require more energy. This energy can be derived in many forms. In this case, one correlates Trail Mix with providing the "energy" one needs to adapt to cultural systems in place promoting an on-the-go attitude toward school, work and even home life.

Personally, I feel there is too much emphasis on convenience foods. These foods, including trail mix, fall exactly into the cultural systems established in the states, systems that continuously promote greater activity among consumers. It seems merchandisers take advantage of these opportunities to provide high-energy snacks and other products to consumers routinely.

Assignment #4 Findings

This study focused on food ritual observance, commodity-chain analysis and symbolic systems to gain a better understanding of how societies form belief systems and function together. Critical to anthropology, this field study assignment reconfirmed the relevance of participative observation in understanding culture and the reasons for human behavior, taboos, interaction and even political and economic belief structures.

This hands-on exercise revealed that food ritual observances are still common in every-day society. Anthropologists have much to gain by observing food rituals, which can lead to greater insights about societal taboos, cultural beliefs and accepted practices (Coen 2005; Roark 2007). The ethnographic work presented for this class suggests it is critical for Anthropologists to examine and observe societal habits and rituals in an effort to ascertain patterns and provide a "systematic description of a culture based on firsthand observation" (Roark 2007).

In studying the commodity chain for the trail mix product, I was able to observe and measure directly and indirectly a total phenomenon, the rules through which it operates, and see the broader context in which food is supplied and marketed to consumers, contributing to cultural idealisms, as suggested by the readings of Immanuel Wallerstein.

Much of the ethnographic work conducted by researchers and presented in the class concentrated on the links between ritual observances, commodity chain analysis and symbolic system analysis. These analyses help: (1) define culture, (2) recognize patterns of behavior among members of a given culture, and (3) provide an analysis of the political and economic influences food and other commodities have on human behavior. In completing this assignment, I can now link each of these important areas of analysis to the study of human behavior.

The simple act of observing students engaged in informal discourse revealed much about stereotypical beliefs that still exist within the American culture, including patriarchal themes and the idealisms of women vs. men. The commodity chain analysis revealed how simple it is for a company like General Mills Inc. To influence consumer's attitudes and beliefs toward foods and food products. The way products are marketed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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