As anthropologists have delineated, however, food not only answers our most basic physical needs, but also is central to social ritual and the construction of culture.
Food plays a vital symbolic role in celebrations and religious ceremonies and is an important marker of social status, gender identity, and ethnic, religious, and national affiliations. The transition to modernity has seemingly intensified the importance of food in society. Food production, preparation, marketing, and consumption are intimately connected with modern and postmodern trends such as industrialization, the rise of mass media, imperialism, economic globalization, multiculturalism and, not least, the changing position of women.
Food and its cultural ramifications pervade modern Western society. Bestseller lists highlight not just the latest cookbook but also Proustian-type memoirs and insider views of the food industry, novels that incorporate recipes into the narrative, and journalistic reportage on what one author has christened the "fast food nation.
Movies, from Babette's Feast to Big Night , center on food and eating. The growing popularity in the United States and Europe, at least, of restaurants serving "ethnic," "foreign," and fusion cuisine is a tangible reminder of an ongoing global diaspora. This intense interest in food and its attendant cultural innovations, which is so prevalent in Western popular culture today, has not elicited a corresponding enthusiasm from the academy, however.
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Indeed, anthropology is perhaps the one discipline whose practitioners have recognized food's importance beyond merely its biological necessity and have tried to incorporate that insight into their researches. This defensiveness that Belasco notes looms even larger when food studies is brought together with women's history. It would seem that women's historians should be at the forefront of historical explorations of food, given women's primary responsibility for preparation and in some societies for production of food, as well as the gendered aspects of food distribution and consumption characteristic of many different cultures.
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