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Introduction to Anthropology

14.4 The Globalization of Food

Introduction to Anthropology14.4 The Globalization of Food

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Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. 1 What Is Anthropology?
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Study of Humanity, or "Anthropology Is Vast"
    3. 1.2 The Four-Field Approach: Four Approaches within the Guiding Narrative
    4. 1.3 Overcoming Ethnocentrism
    5. 1.4 Western Bias in Our Assumptions about Humanity
    6. 1.5 Holism, Anthropology’s Distinctive Approach
    7. 1.6 Cross-Cultural Comparison and Cultural Relativism
    8. 1.7 Reaching for an Insider’s Point of View
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  3. 2 Methods: Cultural and Archaeological
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Archaeological Research Methods
    3. 2.2 Conservation and Naturalism
    4. 2.3 Ethnography and Ethnology
    5. 2.4 Participant Observation and Interviewing
    6. 2.5 Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis
    7. 2.6 Collections
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  4. 3 Culture Concept Theory: Theories of Cultural Change
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 The Homeyness of Culture
    3. 3.2 The Winkiness of Culture
    4. 3.3 The Elements of Culture
    5. 3.4 The Aggregates of Culture
    6. 3.5 Modes of Cultural Analysis
    7. 3.6 The Paradoxes of Culture
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Bibliography
  5. 4 Biological Evolution and Early Human Evidence
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 What Is Biological Anthropology?
    3. 4.2 What’s in a Name? The Science of Taxonomy
    4. 4.3 It’s All in the Genes! The Foundation of Evolution
    5. 4.4 Evolution in Action: Past and Present
    6. 4.5 What Is a Primate?
    7. 4.6 Origin of and Classification of Primates
    8. 4.7 Our Ancient Past: The Earliest Hominins
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  6. 5 The Genus Homo and the Emergence of Us
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Defining the Genus Homo
    3. 5.2 Tools and Brains: Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus
    4. 5.3 The Emergence of Us: The Archaic Homo
    5. 5.4 Tracking Genomes: Our Human Story Unfolds
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  7. 6 Language and Communication
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 The Emergence and Development of Language
    3. 6.2 Language and the Mind
    4. 6.3 Language, Community, and Culture
    5. 6.4 Performativity and Ritual
    6. 6.5 Language and Power
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  8. 7 Work, Life, and Value: Economic Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Economies: Two Ways to Study Them
    3. 7.2 Modes of Subsistence
    4. 7.3 Gathering and Hunting
    5. 7.4 Pastoralism
    6. 7.5 Plant Cultivation: Horticulture and Agriculture
    7. 7.6 Exchange, Value, and Consumption
    8. 7.7 Industrialism and Postmodernity
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Bibliography
  9. 8 Authority, Decisions, and Power: Political Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Colonialism and the Categorization of Political Systems
    3. 8.2 Acephalous Societies: Bands and Tribes
    4. 8.3 Centralized Societies: Chiefdoms and States
    5. 8.4 Modern Nation-States
    6. 8.5 Resistance, Revolution, and Social Movements
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  10. 9 Social Inequalities
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Theories of Inequity and Inequality
    3. 9.2 Systems of Inequality
    4. 9.3 Intersections of Inequality
    5. 9.4 Studying In: Addressing Inequities within Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  11. 10 The Global Impact of Human Migration
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Peopling of the World
    3. 10.2 Early Global Movements and Cultural Hybridity
    4. 10.3 Peasantry and Urbanization
    5. 10.4 Inequality along the Margins
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  12. 11 Forming Family through Kinship
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 What Is Kinship?
    3. 11.2 Defining Family and Household
    4. 11.3 Reckoning Kinship across Cultures
    5. 11.4 Marriage and Families across Cultures
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  13. 12 Gender and Sexuality
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Anthropology
    3. 12.2 Performing Gender Categories
    4. 12.3 The Power of Gender: Patriarchy and Matriarchy
    5. 12.4 Sexuality and Queer Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  14. 13 Religion and Culture
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 What Is Religion?
    3. 13.2 Symbolic and Sacred Space
    4. 13.3 Myth and Religious Doctrine
    5. 13.4 Rituals of Transition and Conformity
    6. 13.5 Other Forms of Religious Practice
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  15. 14 Anthropology of Food
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Food as a Material Artifact
    3. 14.2 A Biocultural Approach to Food
    4. 14.3 Food and Cultural Identity
    5. 14.4 The Globalization of Food
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  16. 15 Anthropology of Media
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Putting the Mass into Media
    3. 15.2 Putting Culture into Media Studies
    4. 15.3 Visual Anthropology and Ethnographic Film
    5. 15.4 Photography, Representation, and Memory
    6. 15.5 News Media, the Public Sphere, and Nationalism
    7. 15.6 Community, Development, and Broadcast Media
    8. 15.7 Broadcasting Modernity and National Identity
    9. 15.8 Digital Media, New Socialities
    10. Key Terms
    11. Summary
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Bibliography
  17. 16 Art, Music, and Sport
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Anthropology of the Arts
    3. 16.2 Anthropology of Music
    4. 16.3 An Anthropological View of Sport throughout Time
    5. 16.4 Anthropology, Representation, and Performance
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  18. 17 Medical Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 What Is Medical Anthropology?
    3. 17.2 Ethnomedicine
    4. 17.3 Theories and Methods
    5. 17.4 Applied Medical Anthropology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  19. 18 Human-Animal Relationship
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Humans and Animals
    3. 18.2 Animals and Subsistence
    4. 18.3 Symbolism and Meaning of Animals
    5. 18.4 Pet-Keeping
    6. 18.5 Animal Industries and the Animal Trade
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Bibliography
  20. 19 Indigenous Anthropology
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Indigenous Peoples
    3. 19.2 Colonization and Anthropology
    4. 19.3 Indigenous Agency and Rights
    5. 19.4 Applied and Public Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Bibliography
  21. 20 Anthropology on the Ground
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Our Challenging World Today
    3. 20.2 Why Anthropology Matters
    4. 20.3 What Anthropologists Can Do
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Critical Thinking Questions
    8. Bibliography
  22. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the impacts of globalization on food and food diversity.
  • Define food deserts and food oases.

Globalization of Food

Most people, when they think about food, consider it a local, individual choice based on personal preferences and economic possibilities. But food is a global commodity marketed by transnational corporations, health institutes, advertising campaigns, and subtle and not-so-subtle cultural messaging through global media such as movies, television, and online video. Most often, what people choose to eat is based on underlying structures that determine availability and cost. While there are now hothouse businesses growing year-round fruits and vegetables, affordability often prohibits everyone from having access to fresh, ripe foods. Instead, mainstream grocery stores most often stock foods imported across long distances. Most fruits and vegetables sold in the grocery store were harvested unripe (and often tasteless) so that they would last the days and weeks between harvesting and purchase.

A port scene showing a huge crane lifting hundreds of pallets onto a ship.
Figure 14.13 Pallets of fruit being loaded on deck for shipment overseas. Most commercial fruits are harvested before they are ripe so that they will not spoil before arriving at a supermarket, often far from where they were picked. (credit: Dr. Karl-Heinz Hochhaus/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

In her work on food and globalization, anthropologist and food studies specialist Lynne Phillips points out the “crooked pathways” (2006, 38) that food takes to become a global commodity. Increasingly affected by transnational corporations, food today is marketed for endlessly higher profits. Food no longer goes simply from producer to consumer. There are many turns along the way.

Food globalization has numerous effects on our daily lives:

  • The food chains from producers to consumers are increasingly fragile as a small number of transnational corporations provide the basic foods that we eat daily. Failures in this food chain might come from contamination during production or breaks in the supply chain due to climate crises, tariffs, or trade negotiations between countries. Our dependence on global food chains makes the food supply to our communities more vulnerable to disruption and scarcity.
  • Our food cultures are less diverse and tend to revolve around a limited number of mass-produced meats or grains. With the loss of diversity, there is an accompanying loss not only of food knowledge but also of nutrition.
  • As foods become more globalized, we are increasingly dependent on food additives to enhance the appearance and taste of foods and to ensure their preservation during the long journey from factory farm to table. We are also increasingly exposed to steroids, antibiotics, and other medicines in the meat we eat. This exposure poses health risks to large numbers of people.
  • As plants and animals are subjected to ever more sophisticated forms of genetic engineering, there is an increasing monopoly on basic food items, allowing transnational companies to affect regulatory controls on food safety. As corporate laboratories develop patented seeds (such as the Monsanto Corporation’s genetically engineered corn) that are super-producers and able to withstand challenges such as harsh climate conditions and disease, growers become dependent on the seed sold by these corporations. No longer able to save seed from year to year, growers have little choice but to pay whatever price these corporations choose to charge for their genetic material.
  • Factory farming of all types, but especially large-scale animal farms, are major contributors to global warming. Not only do they produce large amounts of water and air pollution and contribute to worldwide deforestation, but as more and more forest is turned into pasture, the sheer number of livestock contributes significant levels of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Worldwide, livestock account for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (Quinton 2019).

Food has long been an international commodity, even during the 17th and 18th centuries, when traders sought spice and trade routes connecting Europe and Asia. Today, however, food has become transnational, with production sometimes spanning many different countries and fresh and processed foods moving long distances from their original harvest or production. Because these migrating foods must be harvested early or packaged with preservatives that we may not know or even be able to pronounce, there has been a parallel development in local food movements, organic food movements, and farm-to-table establishments as people see the dangers of food globalization. In the very popular The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), American author and food journalist Michael Pollan advocates that people should know the identity of the foods they eat and should make every effort to eat locally sourced products. Shortly after the book’s publication, chef and author Jessica Prentice coined the term locavore to refer to those who eat locally and know the origins of their foods. In 2007, locavore was chosen as the New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year.

Food Deserts and Oases

Worldwide, access to nutritious and affordable foods is growing increasingly unequal. Areas with inadequate or unreliable access to nutritious foods are sometimes called food deserts. Food deserts present serious challenges to health and wellness in multiple ways and have been linked to eating disorders, obesity, and malnutrition. In Western nations, food deserts frequently correspond to other areas of social inequality, such as low-income and minority communities. Reduced availability of healthy and economical food often exacerbates many of the challenges these communities face.

A map of the United States with blocks of color indicating the percentages of the population who do not have a car and have no supermarket within one mile. The darkest color indicates more than 10% of the population and the lightest colors less than 2.5% of the population. On the map, the greatest concentrations of dark areas are in the South, the Appalachian states, and parts of the Southwest.
Figure 14.14 Food deserts are common in Western countries, especially in and around urban areas. This chart shows areas in the United States where significant percentages of people both have no car and no grocery store within a mile of their home, which is about a twenty minute walk for a healthy adult. (credit: United States Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

As the world population continues to grow (currently at around 7.9 billion people), climate change accelerates, and food production becomes more and more concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, access to food will become increasingly critical to our survival. The story of progress embraced by Western society tells us that globalization and agricultural developments have stabilized and secured our food chains, but anthropological studies of foragers suggest otherwise. Agricultural production is tied to access to arable land, clean water, stable climate, and a reliable workforce. Periodically, crops (and animals) fail due to disease, drought, and even disruption from warfare and extreme weather, leading to scarcity and famine in many parts of the world. In addition, as families and communities produce less and less of their own food and become more and more dependent on intermediaries to gain access to food, their vulnerabilities increase. While there are many differences between state societies and foragers, there are valuable lessons we can learn from them. Foragers, facing the same unstable conditions that we all face worldwide, have a more varied and flexible diet and are able to adjust their needs seasonally based on local availability. They eat locally, and they adjust their needs to what is available.

There are also food oases, areas that have high access to supermarkets and fresh foods, and these are growing in number. Some are in urban or suburban areas, and some are in rural areas where sustainable farming supports a local community or restaurant. In Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the Trustees’ Table serves food from the nearby Pleasant Hill Shaker gardens. Visitors to the Shaker site, a historic cloistered religious community, learn about the Shaker seed industry, plant varieties, and sustainable gardening techniques at Shaker Farm, then walk down to the Trustees’ Table to have a farm-to-table meal. The seasonal menu features local Kentucky dishes that would have been common fare during the period of Shaker occupation (1805–1910), such as garlic potatoes, warm or cold salads, vegetable pot pies, and apple pie. By utilizing the foods raised in the nearby gardens, the Trustees’ Table serves as a legacy restaurant that helps preserve and sustain Shaker research and farming on-site.

In Richmond, Virginia, an organization called Real Local RVA was founded in 2014 as a grassroots local food movement to support businesses and residential areas in the downtown area of the city. It expresses its core value as “collaboration over competition.” The group sponsors monthly meetings, local farm tours, and community events highlighting businesses and prominent figures in the local food movement. The participants are all farmers, independent grocers, or local restaurants that source local ingredients and products as part of their mission. Besides advocating for small farms and independent businesses, Real Local RVA also sponsors workshops and education on sustainable farming, does joint marketing and “storytelling” about its partnership and the values of local food networks, and provide a recognizable brand to identify participating members for the wider urban community.

Although local food movements are increasingly popular, most still primarily operate in more affluent areas. As we develop more of these healthy initiatives, we also must expand the zones in which they operate, especially in cities, to include all of our neighbors and neighborhoods. Food and sociality go hand in hand. As Michael Pollan writes, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture” (2008, 192).

The study of food in anthropology is important for many reasons. Food reveals cultural identities and physical vulnerabilities, and it helps build social networks and mark important life events. How often eating is prescribed, what foods are considered appropriate, who cooks, who serves whom, and what foods are most and least valued all vary across cultures. As anthropologists seek to understand human cultures, food is often a centerpiece ingredient in knowing who we are.

Mini-Fieldwork Activity

Food Memories

 

Food plays an important role in long-term memory, as it is linked to smell, taste, and texture and often is a central feature of social functions, whether they be family dinners or holiday feasts. In this project, you will interview two individuals who are likely to have different food memories than you; they may be older, they may be living in a different part of the country (or world), or they may have lived part of their lives in a specific environment (rural or urban) that is different from yours. Ask each person to share with you stories about special holiday meals prepared and served as part of their family life, whether as a child or an adult. What foods do they most identify with specific holidays? How did they prepare and consume those foods? Were there specific gender roles during the preparation and holiday meals? After collecting and writing up what you have learned, what conclusions can you make about the role of food in human social and cultural life?

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