Identity and Food

“You are what you eat,” that oft-quoted cliché, taken from the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, paraphrasing Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of the 19th-century book The Physiology of Taste, sums up the relationship between food and identity. (The original quote was “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”) The brevity of the popular expression belies the complexity of the concepts involved. Food traditions, choices, and preferences are integrally tied to identity—to ethnicity, region, nationality, gender, class, politics, and economics. For those cultures for which food is a major source of identity, certain ingredients and certain dishes have become iconic signifiers for group members as well as outsiders. Some cultures and some towns have become so identified with their inhabitants’ ...

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