“It may be in the cultural particularities of people — in their oddities — that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.” Clifford Geertz
I first studied the meaning of food whilst carrying out fieldwork in the pioneering London restaurant St. John in Smithfield, famous as much perhaps for its abattoir-like interiors as its ‘nose to tail’ philosophy. Interviewing and observing the diners, staff and chefs, studying the restaurant menus and reviews, and sampling Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad with a group of traders from the City left me in no doubt that food can be a powerful symbol of who we are. What we eat, when, how and why we eat it have long provided a focal point for anthropological study, for it is in our everyday, taken-for-granted habits and actions that clues about wider and deeper cultural ideas can be revealed.
Recently I was approached by with a major retailer who wanted to understand more about the potential of the Sunday Roast as a focal point for marketing. Having carried out a number of focus groups, which had been useful, but they wanted another, deeper perspective.
I developed a paper based in a review of anthropological literature about the symbolic value of meat, and the weekly ritual of the Sunday Roast which has its cultural origins in religious practice. Traditionally involving an elaborate meal with meat as a centrepiece, the Sunday Roast seems firmly entrenched in British culture, despite the apparent decline of the numbers of people going to church. Through exploring what lies beneath this popularity, the client was able to develop a richer, more profound understanding of the potential avenues for development.
Please get in touch if I can help you with a paper, a film or a workshop about any thorny, foody or cultural issue!