Ecological and Cultural Self-Understanding Through the Language of Food
Carter, Lee Raymond
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Applying a critical analytic approach to food studies touches both environmental and social concerns since food exists fluidly—inextricably connecting the two. Thus, a critical theory approach to food extends across the disciplinary lines drawn between environmental and social realities. Food is necessary for heterotrophic life; and, in the complex social world of humans, food is an important piece at almost every level: food is social; food is religious; food is political; and food is economic. Food is a connective force that leaves its influence in people’s day-to-day lives, the way we organize ourselves, and our relationship to the land. Food is an area ripe for research because of how it brings so many different human issues into play through the focus on one aspect of our lives. It is an intimate element that draws together not only society and nature but also human’s internal reflection with the reality of the outside world. Through questioning our interaction with and thoughts about food, critical food theory strives to explain why we think about food the way we do, how our understanding of food shapes the role it has in our lives, and, in turn, how the role of food in our lives affects our outlook on life more generally. In this way, critical food theory, like critical theory more generally, “has as its object human beings as producers of their own historical form of life” (Horkheimer, 1993).Through this world-historical model, critical food theory looks at the ways in which humans have been defined by our foodways and attempts to uncover the ways in which these developments have fallen short of their potential to promote human good, freedom, and self determination.