Shifting Tastes of Food in America

Culture, as it is currently understood, is the learned patterns of behavior adopted by particular group of people, including the particular ways in which people do the things necessary to survive.  For example, everybody needs to eat, but how and what people eat differs greatly from region to region. In the United States for instance, in the last fifty years trends have shifted from eating food made in the home to foods processed on an industrial scale by a manufacturer.  What are the forces behind our current tastes in foods?  And what are the effects of such tastes on American society?

Americans have shifted from cooking themselves, to allowing a company cook for them.  This was discussed in class with the example of “Gogurt”, a portable form of yogurt that comes in a disposable plastic tube[1]. Before foods like Gogurt, breakfast in a typical American household may have consisted of foods like eggs and toast, which takes time and energy to prepare.  Our new tastes for products such as Gogurt can be looked at according to theories of cultural anthropology such as functionalism.

The school of Functionalism for instance, would attempt to explain our current tastes as a response to the need in American households to maintain a relatively high income.  Functionalism argues that the various aspects of a culture exist in order to help serve the individual needs of the members of that culture[2].  In this instance, an argument can be made that our current tastes in foods exists because families are not organized with a designated member who tends to cooking.  It is customary to have all adults in a household work to provide an income.  This leaves nobody with the time necessary to prepare meals for an entire family from unprocessed foods.  The result is products like Gogurt that allow the individuals in our society to fulfill their need for both food and an income, by consuming foods that do not require the time or the skills necessary to cook.

While this trend, consuming foods which are processed outside of the home, has allowed Americans to better cope with a rising cost of living, it has come with some unintended consequences for the American public.  The processed foods provided to Americans by companies are largely high in sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates.  The result is a dramatic increase in the rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in America.  Such problems can be addressed by Applied Anthropology, which is the application of anthropological perspectives, theory, methods, and data to solve social problems[3].  An applied anthropologist could go into the homes of the American public and try and figure out what can be done to solve the health problem in America.  They would then attempt to use their knowledge of cultural tastes to provide products to the American public that serve their needs of quick and easy preparation, while still providing the nutrition needed to maintain good health at an affordable price.  These anthropologists would certainly have their work cut out for them.

— Taylor D.


[1] Lecture: Methods and Theory, 9-1-10, Carole McGranahan.

[2] Kottak, Conrad, Cultural Anthropology Appreciating Cultural Diversity McGraw Hill, 2009.

[3] Lecture: Methods and Theory, 9-1-10, Carole McGranahan.

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52 Responses to Shifting Tastes of Food in America

  1. Kate Barry says:

    I agree with Taylor D. when they say that an applied anthropologist would have their work cut out for them. Maybe they could look cross culturally into other countries that are developed and economically similar to ours. By looking at how other cultures they may be able to find how they are dealing with the same problems that this country is facing. Or maybe they could help create healthier prepared meals for households, in the same fashion that gogurt was created.

  2. danieltpeterson says:

    While I agree that an applied anthropologist could study this, I feel the issue cannot be solved by observing a family. I believe this problem should already have been figured out. Maybe the only solution is to in fact make time to cook meals. Maybe our education system could work in classes on how to cook, and not just how but educate people on the importance of good nutrition and help people understand what our current culture is developing into. Americans lives seem to be in a constant rush and I think the best answer may be to slow down, maybe just once a day even and try to cook a healthy meal for you and your loved ones to enjoy.

    • Kelli Peterson says:

      Interestingly, there used to be classes on cooking and nutrition, it was called “home economics.” Yet these classes were deemed sexist and outdated in many school districts. Perhaps budget issues had something to do with the decline of teaching basic household skills, build a several-kitchen classroom or a new science lab? Hmmm…guess what wins that debate? In our educational culture we are not interested in teaching people how to live healthy lifestyles, we just want them to do the calculus/physics/chemistry and go on to create pharmaceuticals and weapons.
      As far as not studying families to help solve the problem, I respectfully disagree. The point of applied anth is to create solutions that fit within the givin cultural context. If we want to find healthy alternatives, which people will ACTUALLY USE, we have to figure out how they spend their time, their eating patterns, etc. Otherwise, the greatest product in the world may never sell, because it just does not fit into everyday American life.

      • Morgan Spyker says:

        I agree with Kelli’s comment in that we need to study families to solve the problem. Having a lab type course that would encourage and teach children/people about nutrition and how to cook for themselves would help immensely, I believe. Unfortunately, with the advent of the frozen dinner (I admit, I do eat them every so often) people automatically look and think that those are completely unhealthy. Fortunately, companies are getting more smart and realize that making their frozen food healthier will help sales. Also, recently I read an article that frozen vegetables are actually quite healthy. They tend to get frozen when they are fresh, so many of the nutrients are kept tight within the vegetable. Where as “fresh” veggies at the grocery store have sat on trucks for a week or so at a time and then a few more days before being placed out in the isles. Frozen, fresh, healthy, high in carbs…all of that aside, I believe that education is the key. Applied Anthropology should look to why this is happening and to how to fix it. Overall, a very interesting article about a topic that many of us have actually noticed but not really thought about.

      • Courtney Antone says:

        Interesting how we keep referring to the education system as a key to teaching youth how to cook healthy meals when it seems that only until recently people have depended on their families and parents or siblings to teach youth how to do household activities such as cooking. The ideas we have for improving health in our processed food industry and cooking habits may show what are some of our values are- educating children communally in a classroom instead of the home for things even related to home and health management.

  3. Kelsey Robb says:

    I really enjoyed reading this essay because I agree that many families in the world today have become increasingly busy and no longer have time to cook meals from scratch. I also agree that societies have adapted to this new way of living and continue to aid in this approach to an easier lifestyle. Granted, the work that adults put in during the day does not make for an easy lifestyle, but having to cook full meals for the family would add to the hardships. By creating “on-the-go” snacks and easily prepared meals, the applied anthropologist has helped a society in which both parents work. Although these snacks aren’t as nutritious as food made from scratch, the parents are able to provide their children with vast opportunities by working hard and creating a good living situation. Also, there are healthy on-the-go food choices.

    • Jodye Whitesell says:

      Kelsey, I agree with your last sentence. Certainly as a whole, “on-the-go” foods tend to be poor in nutrition and high in sugar content (for that quick burst of energy), but changes are certainly being made to that. Many breakfast cereals (even infamously sugary ones like Lucky Charms) now are being made with whole grain as well as things like Hot Pockets and granola bars. I also find it interesting that Taylor talked about how applied anthropologists would go into the homes of Americans to figure out how to fix the problem because that immediately reminded me of so many of the reality TV shows around right now. There seems to be an extreme popularity of that very concept in a pop culture form with shows that focus on making families healthier. Of course this is more media influence than anthropology, but it is interesting to me that the ideas have managed to transfer from one to the other and even more interesting that they have become such a cultural obsession.

    • angielarson says:

      Kelsey I agree with you. I think that there are pros and cons to these ready-made foods that are easy and on the go such as they may not be as nutritious and they take away from time spent at home as a family eating meals together. But we do live in a fast paced lifestyle and these snacks and meals are convenient and make sense. I think it is up to the parents and it is their responsibility to make sure that when they are buying these easy snacks or meals for their children that they are buying healthy ones, keeping in mind that their child may be losing nutrition by feeding them this way. There is a big difference between a Snack-Pack pudding and a carrots and dip for children to indulge in.

  4. Michaela Clinton says:

    I would have to agree with danieltpeterson that this issue has already been studied pretty thoroughly. It has already been found that Americans are too busy and tired at the end of the day to often take the time to make a meal. Although there are healthy alternative choices for these “on-the-go” meals, they are often more expensive than the un healthy choices. There needs to be a strong push to make these healthier choices more affordable and also for there to be more education for not only kids but also their parents on the risks of their un healthy choices. On the subject of shifting food habits in America, I think it would be interesting for a cultural anthropologist to examine the shifting role of the father when it comes to cooking. I feel that more and more times I hear from my friends that their dads were the ones cooking the meals at home. I feel this new phenomenon has not been study a lot and would be an area that might yield some interesting results.

    • andersca316 says:

      I like your though Michaela on the idea of Dad’s cooking the meals . You mention it though as a new phenomenon that has not been studied much. From my own experience i have two parents who worked full time when i was growing up , and my dad cooked as many or more of the meals then my mom cooked. So when you suggested that this was a new phenomenon it made me think about how normal i thought it was when my dad was cooking a large sum of the meals. I like the idea of studying family structures of jobs and working parents in relation to family dinner time. Another thing that i think would be cool to look at is if we not only were focused on educating people about more healthy alternatives instead of the quicker meals , but simply educating people on the importance of sitting down and taking time out of your day, as busy as we all are , to have a family meal. In my home growing up we made sure to have family meals at least three times a week , even with two very busy working parents and three children with full schedules . I think taking more time for dinner is possible and we have just become lazy, and these quick-fix , processed meals are catalyzing this practice.

      • Taylor Deisinger says:

        Going along with what Michaela and andersca316 are talking about with the increase or more prominent role of fathers in the kitchen, i believe that this topic could be approached from a Feminist Anthropology perspective. By looking at the change in gender roles of who is working, no longer having the male bread winner per-say but both parents holding full time jobs, it is not surprising that men are doing more of the cooking. like andersca316 my father did all of the cooking, and not only did he cook but it was more than 90% of the time a home cooked meal opposed to a frozen dinner. So, yes there is an overwhelming change in the types of food we are eating and even who is cooking them, but it is not necessarily encompass the entire culture.

  5. Everett Warner says:

    I agree with Michaela that the price and affordability of food is a huge factor in this situation. Not only are pre-made on-the-go foods easier to prepare but they can often times be bought in bulk, which is cheaper. In order to have healthy meals cooked from scratch you must make frequent visits to the grocery store to buy fresh food for your meals. All of these trips can be costly and time consuming, while a pre-made meal could be stored in your freezer and ready for consumption, with little work, whenever you want to eat it. It’s conveniant and cheap, but terribly unhealthy. And the king of this unhealthy but conveniant lifestyle are the fast food restraunts. These very unhealthy meals have become extremely popular due to their conveniance and cheap prices. The idea of cheap and conveniant has been engrained into our society and Taylor is absolutely correct by saying that “these anthropologists would certainly have their work cut out for them” to turn this around.

    • Stephanie Barker says:

      I agree. Something that must be considered is the relation between class and diet. In China, a country that has developed recently and rapidly, people are able to afford meat who previously couldn’t and this has led to an increase in obesity in the country. The United States on the other hand, has the highest rates of obesity in low income people. There is a scarcity of healthy, fresh and inexpensive food in this country. The USDA has even released reports about how the cheapest food, sold at wholesale retailers like Costco or BJ’s, is essentially unavailable to low income people. Obviously, one who lives paycheck to paycheck cannot afford to buy food in bulk. Yes, fast, processed food consumption has increased due to the convenience it offers. However, the routine consumption of this food, I believe is due to the economic necessity of those who cannot afford healthier alternatives.

      • Michelle LaGreca says:

        I agree. The economic standing of a family is a major factor in determining diet and as a result, the health and levels of obesity of the members. I agree with Taylor D. in the sense that the families with lower income (and in turn the societies with lower incomes) will tend to have higher rates of obesity. This is true today in America with the craze on fast-food and convenience. It is cheaper sometimes to go to McDonald’s and purchase dinner for a family for roughly 5$ than it is to take the time and money to buy groceries and prepare a meal. A growing trend in the higher-class families is the focus on only organic foods in their meals (which are more expensive — you pay more for quality) that are prepared by someone they hire to cook because their “demanding” schedules take away the time necessary to cook meals for their families. By removing the former cultural norm that a parent would prepare every meal for their families, the door is opened for many new culturally-accepted and potentially harmful alternatives to fulfilling the human need for food.

  6. Elizabeth Myers says:

    Although I know you are right, I do feel like people are starting to realize this problem and want to change it. Maybe this is just because I live in the “boulder bubble” but I have seen a dramatic increase in trying to create a compromise between health, fast, and affordable food. It may take a while to catch on with the rest of America but I do think everyone wants to be more healthy, and they just need help. Most all food companies are now trying to pack their food with more fiber and vitamins to keep up with America’s desire for change.

    • Dana Melby says:

      Elizabeth- While reading this essay I too thought of the cultural shift, at least here in Boulder, toward slow food. By slow food I mean food that takes time to prepare and is generally prepared with whole foods. While the slow food movement is not accessible for everyone I think consumers are beginning to demand processed products to be made with less artificial ingredients and more recognizable ingredients. This demand is shown by the examples you have given, as well as the increase in large corporations offering organic products. I think it will be interesting to see over the next years whether healthier processed products become something that is a mainstay or if they fade away.

      • Brenna H. says:

        What interests me about the organic craze is not that people are starting to demand organic food, but the way in which food companies are answering that demand.

        If a food label in the United States says that the food is “made with organic ingredients,” it means that it has just 70% organic ingredients. All the typical consumer sees, though, is “…organic…”–the alluring “o word” is on the label, and the company will still benefit from the public’s affinity for organic food. The USDA does not have a standard definition for “natural,” which is another term that attracts consumers. In the US, “free range” chickens must be “allowed access to the outside,” which is extremely ambiguous (and companies take full advantage of this ambiguity… an open window in a barn full of chickens stuffed into battery cages could qualify as free range). These key words attract the lay consumer, whose culturally ingrained attraction toward the organic/healthy/moral option is satisfied by the ambiguous, deceptive label. In this way, food companies can benefit from the organic food trend, with little or no actual change to their product.

        I think that this issue could be explored through the Culture and Personality school of anthropological thought– especially the idea of cultural patterning and the impact of culturally prescribed values (such as taking care of one’s body and environment, and ethical treatment of other creatures) on an individual’s decisions and personality.

        USDA definition of “organic”: http://usda-fda.com/articles/organic.htm

  7. Jessie Kronke says:

    I agree with Taylor D’s argument that processed, on-the-go foods are a contributing factor to the growing obesity rates in the country, I feel like there have to be other explanations as well. It can’t be known with out extensive research of every individual’s eating habits that fast food is solely causing weight problems, as there are possibilities that people who regularly consume home cooked meals could be obese as well. It would be interesting to see if any other cultural changes have effected the weight gain of many Americans, such as the introduction of the television into main stream society-its been suggested that when watching the t.v. during meals one will become distracted and eat more than if they were to sit at the dinner table and converse with family members, which would be a probable theory whether the food being consumed were homemade or pre-made fast food.

  8. Rebecca Powell says:

    I agree that fast food and eating habits of busy Americans have become main contributing factors in the rise of obesity. However, I hope that an Applied Anthropologist would realize that the pattern of eating foods on-the-go is not going to fade anytime soon. In our culture, until a major change comes along, people will continue to eat their meals while they are driving, watching TV, and just plain rushing. I agree with Kelsey that healthy on-the-go meals can be provided. The main problem with eating on-the-go is that the few healthy options available are pricier than the unhealthy versions. I think that the main problem to be solved here is how to make healthier options more available to the general public.

  9. Mia Sadowsky says:

    It is easy for us to place the responsibility of cooking meals on our parents; it is simply our culture in America, what we see as our standard. An applied anthropologist might look into how an average American family can switch up the typical rolls. We no longer live in a society where the mother stays home and cooks and the father brings home the money. Today women are just as important to the work force as men and have just as many work related responsibilities as men. Perhaps it is time for kids to take the responsibility of cooking meals upon themselves. Cooking classes could be put into schools for full credit and go hand in hand with health class. Kids know what their taste buds enjoy its just a matter of learning how to make it in a healthy way.
    Being healthy is not just about the food you eat, but where you get it. Cooking classes and environmental classes should put a big emphasis on supporting local farming. Buying food from local farmers and farmers markets may be more expensive, but you would be supporting your local economy, buying tasty veggies free of pesticides, and significantly reducing your carbon footprint. Being healthy is a simple choice and a sacrifice that we should all be willing to make.

  10. Mark Lamberti says:

    @DanieltPeterson- I really like your idea about the educational system these days…………..”Maybe our education system could work in classes on how to cook, and not just how but educate people on the importance of good nutrition and help people understand what our current culture is developing into.”………… In my high school there was a cooking class that I learned a book of tricks from that I use today. My roommates and I find time to cook a meal every day and to be honest I believe that relaxed time at home with the people I live with positively effects our relationships and lowers tensions between us. If parents today made more meals at home in a relaxed environment with their children they themselves could teach them the necessary lessons for cooking. Also the education system should teach more about the negative effects of eating fast food or heavily processed foods in general. Eating healthy food prepared by your own hands is a great way to get in touch with the food that you are providing for your body (since you might only know half the ingredients on the bottle of soda or white castle burgers).

  11. Cristina Gannon says:

    I really enjoyed ready this paper and several thoughts came to mind….
    – you stated that convenient foods “allow the individuals in our society to fulfill their need for both food and an income” I agree with this completely but it made me think a little deeper into the issue. The current trend is for both family members to work to bring in the income, resulting in less time and hopefully more money, therefore they are resorting to ready-made meals or eating out. This seems to be a bit in conflict with the reason there is lack of time, to make more money. I believe that it is widely accepted that eating out or pre-prepared meals end up costing a person/family more money then cooking for yourself at home. Therefore, families have less time because they are working more to make more money, but are inturn spending more money on ready-made foods that allow them to work more. A viscous cycle.
    – Elizabeth Myers suggested that companies are making a better effort and providing consumers with healthier “fast” options. I agree with this to a certain extent. Althought there definately are healthier options out there I always wonder are they really healthier or are the companies getting better at “disguising” the faults of the product and better advertising any benefits (whether they be true benefits or perceived benefits.)

    • Andrew Matthews says:

      Cristina brought up some very interesting points about how families have transitioned from the traditional home cooked meal, to having a meal out or eating food that has already been prepared. For a family that has two working parents, it is difficult to spend time with their children in addition to providing a satisfactory home cooked meal. It seems that time is the biggest issue among parent’s problem with cooking, explaining America’s 24 hr need for fast food. The ease of providing a hot meal in a matter of minutes definitely has a major impact on the amount of money spent on groceries for a home.

  12. zackparrinella says:

    Taylor, I think this is a interesting article. It always has been a mystery to me why the American public is satisfied with fast food and processed foods, even though the food is disgusting in so many ways. I have always envied European culture because most of their food industry is locally owned shops, and most of the food chains that are in Europe originally come from the USA. In comparing European and American food culture, I’m interested in why we are so accustomed to and OK with eating terrible food all the time, whereas European cultures eat healthier food, and even if it is slightly unhealthy (Germans love their meat), it is at least important to them because it is truly a part of their culture.
    A German man will always argue that a Bratwurst is the best food on the planet, but I will never be proud enough of the McDonald’s corporation to argue that we actually need it.

  13. Erica Edelberg says:

    While the creation of fast, processed, packaged foods in America is certainly related to the busy lifestyles that we lead, it is interesting to note that such foods also exist in other cultures that may not live the same way we do. With this is mind, I wonder if the presence of such convenient foods would actually begin to encourage the on-the-go lifestyle that we are so accustomed to. Certainly, the existence of a certain way of living can affect the type of food that people eat, but do you think that a shift in the type of food a culture eats can subsequently affect their traditional lifestyles?

    • Ryan Kelly says:

      I think this is a very good point. It would be interesting to see a statistic showing different societies, living differently paced lifestyles, and how they prepare their meals accordingly.

  14. Bryan Daino says:

    I really like this paper. I think that everything that is said is really true. As the women in society are starting to work full time they are spending less time on cooking food for there families. So they are buying pre-made meals or going to fast food restaurants that are very unhealthy. Over the past 50 years the us has gone form healthy to none healthy because of this. This article says that more and more people are eating fast food and pre-made food because its easier then cooking but it has more sugar and fat then something you would make at home. The “gogurt” example is a great example of what the people in the US are doing today instead of making there own food.

  15. Lucy Lundstrom says:

    I loved reading this paper. I am currently reading a book called In Defense of Food, which I am not very far into, but it speaks on the same issues presented in this essay. One of the things that I found very interesting in the book was that despite the fact that the food eaten in many places in the world is not necessarily low in calories or fat, most countries in the world see significantly lower rates of obesity and heart disease than America. The French for example, often pride themselves on their delicious pastries and cooking, which is, much of the time, laden with fatty foods such as butter and cream. However, the people of France are stereotypically the picture of good health. So if American foods and French foods are both fat filled and relatively unhealthy in many cases, why is it that the French see such lower rates of obesity? The book suggests that the unhealthiest aspect of our food is the fact that we rarely prepare our own meals from scratch or sit down for a meal with family and friends, but instead rely on on-the-go choices like fast food, due to our busy and hectic lifestyles. Continuing with the France example, the books goes on to note that French culture places a great deal of importance of eating thoughtfully prepared food, enjoying it with family and friends, and often cooking their own meals from scratch. All this was written in the first few chapters of the book and, not having delved any further into it I am not sure how much truth this idea holds, but I did think it was a really interesting idea. Perhaps the secret to better health is simply learning to create and appreciate good food and to take the time to enjoy it with the ones you love. While there are many potential issues involving money and time when it comes to this idea, maybe cooking one’s own meals is of enough importance to rearrange one’s schedule or place priorities on different things. I also really like the idea presented by earlier responses of providing cooking classes in schools so that kids can learn the skills necessary to create their own food.

  16. sam johnson says:

    Taylor, I agree that because there is not a designated family “cook” in American families, there might be less meals prepared from whole foods. But it is also worth considering that Americans spend the smallest amount (by percent) of their income on food than anyone else in the world. Not only are less people learning how to cook, but we have left almost none of our budgets for nutritious (and possibly more expensive) foods. To me, this shows that it has less to do with designating a cook in the family and more with the fact that Americans simply value cheap and fast food, which happen to be processed and unhealthy.

  17. Kara Gibson says:

    The changing food standards seem to be just another example of the shift to everything fast, cheap and portable. Fast food, TV dinners, take-out etc are all evidence not only of changing food but also of the changing world. Where once value was placed in the home cooked meal, as was mentioned in the essay, now there is only the chain with the best fries or largest dollar menu. Similar trends can be seen in other aspects of life as well because life is becoming more fast paced and “on the go”. The shift from tape decks to ipods, desk-top computers to laptops, ceramic coffee mugs to to-go cups, and home cooked meals to fast food are all signs of how society is developing into a whirlwind environment. You bring up a great point that this attempt to save dollars and time has negative effects, and it would be interesting to see how other changing elements in American culture will shape the nation in the fututre.

  18. Ryan Kelly says:

    While the initial shift was from making home-cooked meals to purchasing company based meals like Gogurt, it is also interesting to consider the more modern shift applying to people who are now choosing to eat natural and healthy once again. The problem is eating natural happens to be more expensive, maybe too expensive for some people. Is it because “Gogurt-like” companies put their more healthy and natural alternatives out of business? If so, a low-income family may no longer have the choice to eat natural. The job of the applied anthropologist is to find a way to provide healthy, natural food at a low price, making a home-cooked meal more affordable.

  19. Joseph DeMoor says:

    I enjoyed this essay, it brought many things to mind. First, I agree we are losing aspects of our culture that used to have high value. Such as spending time around the dinner table with your family and taking the time to hear about everyone’s days, this could be applied to roommates in college. Now I think it is possible to eat on the go healthily but for the most part fast food choices are not healthy. America is obsessed with multi tasking and doing as much as possible. If people go against this they may appear lazy when really other countries have set times in the day for a siesta, I have heard that these down times or nap times are great for people physically and mentally and that production is even higher because people are not burnt out. Eating quickly and stress can lead to weight gain and numerous other health problems.

  20. Jacki Altman says:

    The points this essay raises are important especially for a society that relies so much on rapid pace. Our society is thinking of ways to cut corners on a lot of aspects of life, including preparing food. This could be looked at by feminist anthropologists who argue that because women are prevalent in the workplace they do not have time to perform the job of the preparation of meals that has been associated with the role of wives and mothers for centuries. Could a switch of breadwinners be the cause of frequently consumed processed food? If the American society does not have time to prepare food, what else does our society not have time for anymore? Could this hurried substitution for cooking be the start of a new technological movement? What will this do to the health of America and the countries who follow the US’s lead? Will this ultimately affect third world countries who don’t have resources to eat healthy in the first place?

  21. Kelsey Ross says:

    These anthropologists definitely do have their work cut out for them! While I definitely agree that the push for income is definitely a key player in the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease battle, I think this leads to another key component. Parents are feeling the income push and resorting to lower quality foods. If parents don’t have enough time to cook homemade meals, they are definitely not going to have the time to teach their offspring to cook either. When these kids grow up, they are not knowing how to cook and they are relying on what they were brought up on and exposed to growing up. This generation is then demanding even more manufactured and highly processed foods. This generation in turn will not know how to teach the next generation how to cook, and the next generation will continue to demand more of the same. It seems to be a downward spiral that will be hard to stop, let alone reverse.

  22. John Vertovec says:

    I really think that this essay brings up a topic that is extremely relevant in the US today. Too many people are heating overly processed foods and because of this, the USA is facing an obesity problem that is killing our population. I think that applied anthropology and functionalism are two great lenses to look at this problem through, but how about the anthropology of development. The idea of eating fast foods is one that has been developing for years. Our parent’s generation started this trend because of their lack of knowledge in the kitchen. This is probably due to the lack of education surrounding food health and food production (i.e. cooking in the home taught through programs such as home-ec). This trend is being passed from our parent’s generation to our generation. Because of our lack of knowledge regarding food, our generation’s health is suffering.

  23. Catherine Molnar says:

    This essay flows really nicely and it made a lot of good class connections. I liked the link you made from people choosing the unhealthy foods (functionalism) to the effects caused and moving into your next point (applied anthropology). Though, I feel that people have been starting to realize their unhealthy ways and I believe that this issue is already being studied instead of “could be studied.” I also think that when you talk about applied anthropologists going into the homes of the American public that you could maybe talk about their critiques such as an etic view or they aren’t look at the larger concept of things or that they’re possibly too focused on one thing.

  24. Maddie Sweeney says:

    I agree with Taylor that many households, especially in the U.S., no longer have a primary caregiver that stays at home in order to provide food, cleaning, and other necessities to the family. About 50 years ago, most women were stay-at-home mothers or wives who cooked and cleaned for the rest of the family, but nowadays, many women are now working outside of the home. This has changed the eating habits in many households along with the change of structure in many families these days.

  25. Meghan McFarland says:

    I think we could further this discussion in light of the ethnography, Invitations to Love, that we are currently reading for class. Although Laura Ahearn is writing about love letters in Nepal, one of her key concepts is literacy. She explains the differences between the definitions of literacy by Nepali people and UNESCO (which is a very interesting debate). Basically, Ahearn posits that there are different types of literacy whether they be cultural, visual, or social, that deviate from the common definition of literacy as pertaining solely to text. I think we could apply Ahearn’s broader definition of literacy to the shifting foods that are appearing in American fridges. What kinds of literacy are portrayed? Certainly not nutritional literacy but perhaps cultural literacy or social literacy. The emergence of “GOgurt” and other such industrialized foods show cultural literacy in that it is a visual display of individual material wealth as well as cultural modernity (“GOgurt” was developed because of an increase in technology). In regards to social literacy, it could show the increase of women employed professionally (no longer solely tend to domestic issues such as the preparation of dinner, so they rely on more accessible forms of food such as prepared dinners).

  26. Sean Butler says:

    I agree with your idea that the shift from home prepared food to industrially produced food as a result from one looking for a high income. People in our culture are expected to function a high rate and possess a good work ethic. For people to succeed in such a fast paced society, where time for food and family is minimal, industrially produced food seems like a good alternative to a home cooked meal. I think the functionalist perspective works great for this topic because it is all related to the overall functioning of society. We are taught from a young age that we must have a good work ethic to survive and the combined efforts of everybody trying to compete at the highest level possible is what allows our society to function. If people were to stop working at the rate they do and spend more time with their family and cooking meals at home, they would most likely not be able to reach the level of income that may be expected from them.

  27. Megan Long says:

    This was an excellent topic to choose, not only because it is very interesting, but also because it is very relevant in our society today. Americans are steadily becoming busier due to a pattern of women joining the workforce, which leads to both parents working and less time at home. The convenience offered by foods such as “Gogurt” are very convenient and a greta option for busy families. Although that particular brand may not be the healthiest options, it is very common this day to find an organic or low fat version of any major product. I do like the way that you presented your argument, but another way that you could have approached it is maybe looking at this issue through the view of Feminist Anthropology. You could contribute the shifting tastes of food in America to the changing dynamic in the home life, why this has changed, and what the effects of this are. Other than that, you did a great job.

    • Andrew Matthews says:

      Over time, our society has become very lenient in allowing women to seek job opportunities in professions that have typically been done by men. It’s interesting to think that in the past women did not simply prepare food for there family, they were expected to do so on a daily basis. The stay at home mother and working father, was a stereotypical form of life which influenced other cultures to adopt these roles and live in similar ways. The role of mom and dad in a household environment has influenced Feminist Anthropologist’s study food preparation and relate these studies to those in the workplace. In the restaurant business there are many male and female chefs, proving that it is not seen as unusual for a woman to attain a prominent position.

  28. Allison Metzger says:

    The example of “Gogurt” is brought up in this essay, and is compared to what was formerly considered a normal American meal; however, I do not think of this change as a shift in taste, but rather a shift in culture. In today’s society, it is not that the woman of the household can no longer stay at home to prepare meals, or the need to retain a high income is putting pressure on both parents to work. Sure, everyone wants to maintain a comfortable living, but this change can also be attributed to changes in the expectations of women and their involvement in the workforce. Also, we can look at differences in family culture from where they used to be and where they have progressed now.
    Historically, there has been a greater emphasis on family time than there is in our modern and bustling lifestyles. Not only are people tired when they return from work, but there has also been a transition to a more individualized society. On top of that, as a few other people pointed out, time is of the essence in our modern day-to-day lives and it is becoming more common to grab a cereal bar on the way out the door, rather than sit down to plate of pancakes and eggs.
    I am glad that the issue of health problems and obesity in America is brought up, as it is a growing trend that is affecting more and more people daily. However, I think there are other cultural issues at hand here. The question is asked, “What are the effects of such tastes on American society?” I think health is a good problem to investigate, but also, what have these new food trends done to decrease the concept of family time and what are the long-term effects on our culture as a whole?

  29. Tim Baker says:

    American culture has definitely embraced the ease and convenience of ready-made meals and food of this nature. As with all parts of culture the factors are interdependent upon one another. If one changes so must the others inevitably, such as in this case the need for more income causes there to be less free time. As you said in your essay, people are having to work more to provide an income which leaves less time to prepare meals than there once was. The solution to this problem was to make these quick and easy meals and may even have had the aid of applied anthropologists in their design. But this created a new set of problems that applied anthropology now has to contend with. Applied anthropology seems to have a very wide range of purposes in the world today as cultural problems are always arising.

  30. Kylee Smith says:

    The saddest part of fast-food culture is the ever increasing loss of family time spent over the preparation and sharing of a meal. Meals can be a time to slow down and reconnect with people, a time and place to develop relationships. Notice how first dates are often going out to eat. Meals on the go are generally not as nourishing nutritionally or emotionally. No matter how busy life gets, we all have to eat. Let’s do it together! I would advise an applied anthropologist in this case to work with our society on developing a priority for slow-cooked meals. Studies have shown that children who grow up with family dinners do better in school. If people understand the impact of home cooked meals in a realm other than just physical health, our fast-food culture may start to put on the breaks.

  31. douglas sartori says:

    i think that the functionalist perspective highlighted in Taylor’s paper is good, but there would be a few other things he could have touched on. as the author said, america as a whole has made a cultural shift in the last fifty years that now has both the husband and wife of a household working jobs to provide income. the concept of a stay-at-home parent is becoming a thing of the past, and, again like taylor said, there is no longer a designated meal-maker in many households. i dont believe that that makes the new trend of buying pre-prepared food and dining out a bad thing. i think that it shows that people are being more efficient with time-management. it has gotten harder to allot time for a sit-down meal, and a quick meal is a solid alternative. i also think that a functionalist would look at cost-effectiveness as a determinate in many american’s lives. people who have a small or limited income will eat at places like mcdonalds because its an inexpensive alternative to buying quality food. i think that this is a downside to the new trends. people are eating unhealthy because it is cheap and easily accessible. you can feed a family of four for under ten dollars at a a fast food restaurant, but they get no nutritional value.

  32. Amanda Pruess says:

    Going off of what Kylee Smith says, I would agree on this. In cultures such as Mexico and Italy, family dinners are huge part of life. Notice, also, how important family is in these cultures. Family meals usually consist of many relatives, extended family, family friends, and even fictive kin. In America, even family dinners usually consist of just the immediate family. Because of this, notice how much more important family are in cultures such as Mexico compared to the busy American life. This just goes to show how much food in a culture can seep into other aspects of culture, such as family values. Kids who have family dinners do better school because of the closeness the meal provides with their family. Eat with your loved ones!

  33. Joe Zimmermann says:

    I think i tend to disagree. I think that our reliance on cheap calories and processed food is more a factor of our fast paced culture. I think that Americans have decided to discard homecooked meals in order to have more time to speed from place to place. I have found in many families that even if one parent stays at home, there is so much work to do with the kids that there is not enough time to cook a meal as well. Your thoughts? My next concern is about how we can go about changing this path we’re on. Is it demonstrating the problem and consequences, like you have done, or will it take a larger impetus? Maybe an applied anthropologist persepective would be helpful…

    • celia anderson says:

      I also agree with Joe that our eating habits have arose from our fast paced culture, and that people just think they don’t have enough time in the day to make home cooked meals anymore. In my opinion though there is enough time in the day to make a home cooked sit down dinner for the family at least a few times a week. We often times say we are so busy but in reality we have chosen to spend time on things that we may deem more important then a family dinner . Maybe if we look at this historically and notice that before the times of quick fix meals and catering services people were still very busy with day to day life yet, still found time to have these dinners because that was the only option. Another interesting thing i thought of after reading this was when Taylor mentions in her essay all of the dietary consequences of quick fix meals it made me thing that not only are our diets in fact suffering, but our family relationships also suffer. Not only does taking the time out for a home cooked meal provide a better dietary standard, but also in doing home cooked meals that family has time to sit down at the table and to use this time to share and keep that family bond strong. Looking back on the times when i was younger and when it was so important for my mom or dad to get home from work and make time for dinner, and now knowing how difficult it can be but at the same time I now see that my family has remained very close to each other because me and my sisters were raised on the importance of family and making time for them even when you feel like it is difficult. I guess at the end of the day you have to decide what is important . . . .staying the extra hour at work so you have extra spending money, or maybe getting home a little earlier on some of those nights and forgoing that extra money to make some memories with your family.

  34. Casey Shea says:

    I agree that this is a problem that could be tackled with applied anthropology, but it’d be a tough feat. In order to combat the issue at its base, an applied anthropological approach would need to change current core American values. Our culture today is fast-paced, where efficiency is king and time wasted is money lost. It takes longer to cook healthy foods (usually; at least on an industrial scale), so “fast” food that is readily available is more convenient than cooking for oneself or even eating out someplace healthy.

    To shift that thinking at the core of our value system would have dramatic impacts across all aspects of society, but it would be difficult.

    I think it would be interesting to watch our culture react to a sudden shift in goal systems (eg living healthy/being happy, rather than living quickly/not enjoying it).

    There’s a book called The China Study that has some interesting points about the diet of the average American. Needs to be taken with a grain of salt at some points though.

  35. Rob Irvin says:

    This essay brings up many health problems that have evolved because of the American desire to make money. In order for families to have a high standard of living it is important that both parents or providers are doing the most they can to make money. This often results in time being taken away from making breakfast or getting exercise. I find it ironic that in order to live an upscale lifestyle families must often eat foods that are less healthy. InAmerica money more important than health and happiness? The problem may be that in the American society money has been mistaken for happiness. I remember growing up hearing that breakfast was the most important meal of the day and nothing is better for a family than a well cooked family dinner. It is sad to see young, over-weight American kids whose mothers and fathers have time to work and exercise but not cook for their children or teach them proper health practices.

  36. Melissa Kristl says:

    The food industry, with the mechanization of food production, has had a sizable impact on how we think about food. Carbohydrates, sugar and fat are all essential parts to the human diet, however when they are consumed excessively there can be negative side effects. With modern science’s ability to calculate the human bodies nutritional needs, it would seem as though the food industry would put greater emphasis on making products that keep the consumer happy and healthy.

    However, a large number of corporations that make food products seem to be focused more on profit margins than on creating a responsible product as can be seen in the extreme use of those ingredients listed above which are highly stimulating, as well as ingredients that are highly addictive. Applied Anthropology would be an appropriate method for working towards finding a balance between satisfying the demands for food on the go and keeping people healthy.

  37. Amanda Kim says:

    As the ever-changing society continues to thrive, food was historically viewed as something needed to consume to live due the nutrients given from different foods, such as a banana, known for its richness of potassium for keeping normal water balance between the cells and body fluids, and oranges that are known for its antioxidant properties that helps to slow down the aging process. Nowadays, we view food as something needed to consume on taste. If you had the chance, would you enjoy a healthy bowl of boiled spinach? Not quite, unless it’s garnished with a lot of seasoning or topped with more food to make it tastier. I mean, there are ways to make it tastier in a healthy manner, but today, we make food tastier by adding something extra. I mean, what’s tasty now in America is high in fat, carbs and sodium or sweet nowadays. We now go for tasty food, not health food most of the time. For example, a hamburger is cheap and convenient in a fast food restaurant that is delicious, but there are markets that sell fruits for almost the same price. Where would you go for a meal? Phew. I feel out of place with this topic! It made me think (and rant)!

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