What does food mean to us and what role does it play in our lives?

For biologists, food means staying healthy and alive. In times of famine this is still very much the case and we are all familiar with images of hungry children and adults in countries torn apart by war, drought, floods, earthquakes, or storms. Even in developed countries, which seem relatively stable, levels of malnutrition are surprisingly high as parents struggle to feed their children a healthy diet, or those who are homeless live from hand to mouth. But fortunately, for the majority in the developed world, food is not such a luxury, and because of this our relationship with food has grown ever more wide-ranging and complex. As Todhunter said in 1973:

food is prestige, status and wealth … an “apple for the teacher” or an expression of hospitality, friendship, affection, neighbourliness, comfort and sympathy in time of sadness or danger. It symbolises strength, athleticism, health and success. It is a means of pleasure and self gratification and a relief from stress. It is feasts, ceremonies, rituals, special days and nostalgia for home, family and the “good old days” … a means of self expression and a way of revolt. Most of all it is tradition, custom and security … There are Sunday foods and weekday foods, family foods and guest foods; foods with magical properties and health and disease foods. (15)

These many meanings influence the ways in which we eat and how we provide food for those around us. It ...

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