Food has a great impact on cultures around the world, and a good example to illustrate this is a corporate consumable, such as the popular drink Coca-Cola. Anthropologists can find many different impacts and relationships between a culture and something as simple as a name-brand soft-drink, and these impacts are viewed differently depending on the theoretical approach used.
For example, if a Cultural Evolutionist were to study this, the thought-process would follow these lines. A society that has incorporated corporate food items is most likely industrially well developed and evolved, otherwise no company would wish to invest in dispersing its product in a country or area where no one could afford it, or where the company would not make a profit. Cultural Evolutionist use their own society as the standard for comparison, so if a culture has had Coca-Cola almost as long as this anthropologist’s society, then that culture would considered to be more modern than say a culture which has had Coke for a far shorter amount of time. A society which has Coca-Cola plants, in which modern technology is used to bottle the product, and the soda has become a major staple in the society’s groceries, would be ranked higher on the evolutionary scale than a society which only imports Coke, while that society would rank higher than one which has yet to have the influence of “modern” products on its culture. According to Cultural Evolutionists, these societies still in the stages of savagery and barbarism, however, have the potential to someday become just as “evolved” and “civilized” as modern societies. There is potential psychic unity among all cultures.
Those would be the views of a Cultural Evolutionist on the relationship between a corporate food and a culture. These would be flawed, however, because the views are inherently racist, ethnocentric, and also ahistorical (there is no study into the past of the culture now presently “evolving”). Additionally, the people doing the study would probably be armchair anthropologists, never entering the field.
Another possible theoretical approach that could be used is Boasian Anthropology. A Boasian Anthropologist would most likely view the relationship of Coke and culture much differently than the above approach. A culture that has recently incorporated a corporate beverage into its daily life could possibly begin to lose its traditional drinks, and these traditions should be recorded. Each culture should be viewed through the lens of historical particularism, meaning each culture has a unique history, and should thus be seen through cultural relativism, the idea that no culture should be judged or measured by another culture’s standards, comparing apples to oranges. The diffusion of Coca-Cola into this culture is interesting, and the culture’s past should be saved for the future generations, salvage ethnology should take place; for example, what did the native people drink before Coke? Where did they work before Coke plants opened? What traditions are being lost due to industrialization? These are all questions that Boasian Anthropologists would ask. The flaws to their recording of a culture’s history is that they fail to see the present impact corporate consumables have on a society, and how it is changing currently. They are too focused on the past and preserving it.
— Carson H.