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Anthroplogy of Food




The Meaning of Food Video.

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The Meaning of Food

(approx. 180 min., 2005, DVD 1700)

Episode 1: "Food & Life
Episode 2: "Food & Culture"
Episode 3: "Food & Family"

companion book:

 available used from about $ .01
(12 February 2016)

Harris, Patricia, David Lyon, and Sue McLaughlin. The Meaning of Food: The Companion to the PBS Television Series Hosted by Marcus Samuelsson. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2005.




The Meaning of Food book.

"This 3-part series about American food and culture, proposes to bring us together over food. Eating is a form of communication that is rich with meaning. Our relationships to food — universal, most comfortingly familiar, yet ever-inviting topic — reveal much about us."

"The series will sit down to dinner with people from a wide variety of cultures across America, and through their stories explore and celebrate our shared human experience."

Episode 1: "Food & Life"
Episode 2: "Food & Culture"
Episode 3: "Food & Family"

see also

Soul Food WebPage


Terms / Concepts

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From PBS:

Marcus Samuelsson, host of The Meaning of Food and Executive Chef of Aquavit and Riingo.

Marcus Samuelsson, host


[Since these videos were made Marcus Samuelsson opened a third restaurant in New York City, "Merkato 55," on Gansevoort Street in the heart of the Meatpacking District in Manhattan. (Tadias interview)]

The Meaning of Food
(ca. 180 min., CC, 2007, UM Duluth Martin Library Multimedia GT2853.U5 M43 2005 DVD)


"'Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are.'
-- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin"

"Every living thing needs food to survive, but for humans, food has a much deeper and more complex significance. This beautifully illustrated, thought-provoking book explores the role of food in our lives, going on location to thirteen ethnic communities across the United States and examining, through stories, pictures, and interviews with food experts, the many ways that food is an expression of our humanity. It parallels a three-part PBS series hosted by acclaimed New York chef Marcus Samuelsson."

"From an Italian-American wedding in San Diego to a Mexican-American family's Christmastime tradition of making holiday tamales, The Meaning of Food delves into the ways that food binds us to family and culture. It looks in on a Jamai Shasthi ceremony, in which foods promoting fertility are fed to the sons-in-law of a Bengali family in California. It accompanies a woman to South Carolina's coastal lowlands as she explores her Geechee heritage, making red rice with a culinary historian. It enters the kitchen of an East Texas Czech family as they prepare for this year's kolache bake-off. It explains the anthropological signficance behind these and other vignettes, revealing the importance of culinary tradition and celebrating our cultural diversity as expressed through food."

"The Meaning of Food speaks for the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community. With 15 recipes, including several developed by Marcus Samuelsson specifically for the series, and more than one hundred color photos, many of them captured from the series footage, it will be a wonderful addition to the library of anyone interested in food and culture."

"'There is communion of much more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk' --M.F.K. Fisher"

"No matter who we are or where we live, our lives revolve around food. Much more than simple sustenance, food is part of our culture and our traditions. Everything about eating — including what we eat, how it tastes, who prepares it, and who's at the table — is a form of communication rich with meaning."

"This beautifully illustrated, thought-provoking book explores the role of food in our lives. Paralleling a three-part PBS series hosted by acclaimed New York chef Marcus Samuelsson, The Meaning of Food goes on location to twenty ethnic communities across the United States and examines, through stories, pictures, and interviews, the many ways that food is an expression of our humanity. It shows how our attitudes, practices, and rituals around food reflect our most basic beliefs about our world and ourselves. Included in this book are the recipes from the television series and 200 color photographs, many of them captured from the series footage."

"From an Italian-American wedding in San Diego, to a Mexican-American family's Christmastime tradition of making tamales, to a South Carolina woman's exploration of her Geechee heritage, The Meaning of Food sheds light on who we are as Americans."

"'We do not sit at the table only to eat, but to eat together."
-- Plutarch"


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Episode 1: "Food & Life"
examines the symbolic importance of food and eating

Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven.”
  — 1960s Pillsbury advertising slogan

As host Marcus Samuelsson says, “Food is powerfully symbolic and really complex. Through food we express love. We bring comfort and hope. We forge new relationships and strengthen old bonds. Food reaffirms not only our humanity but the joy of being alive. ”In “Food and Life,” we travel across America and meet people with a powerful connection to food. Included in the episode are Mike Piancone, the owner of an Italian gourmet shop in Southern California who expresses his love for his daughter by preparing an elaborate Italian banquet for her wedding; Mita Guha, a Bengali woman in Orange, California who cooks a “Jamai Shasthi” — a traditional Indian fertility feast — for her sons-in-law; and Richard Zhiri, whose Chicago lunchcart delivers a welcome taste of home to African immigrant cabdrivers. We go behind the scenes with some customs agents from JFK Airport, who show us the unusual foods people try to bring back from their homelands, and meet Brian Price, a former Texas convict who prepared final meals for those about to be executed. Also included are Shatreen Masshour, a Muslim-American cheerleader who struggles to maintain her first Ramadan fast; Bianca Steiner Brown, a Holocaust survivor who recalls the awesome power that memories of food had for women in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin; and Thomas Soukakis, a Seattle-based Greek immigrant who has suffered tragic loss but finds a reawakening of joy and hope by opening a restaurant named Vios, the Greek word for “life.” As we learn from the stories in “Food and Life,” food means so much more than simple nourishment. As writer MFK Fisher said, “It seems to me there are three basic needs; for food, security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other. There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk.”

Why Italians Love to Talk About Food by   Elena Kostioukovitch.

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Episode 2: "Food & Culture"
explores how food delineates the different cultures that make up the American 'Melting pot'"

Award-winning chef and MEANING OF FOOD host Marcus Samuelsson knows more about the complex stew of food and culture than many. Born in Ethiopia, Marcus was adopted and raised in Sweden and, as he says, “Everywhere I’ve been, everything I am is reflected in my feelings about food. America is called a melting pot, but I think it’s more like a stew where individual flavors are still present yet create a whole. Like me, many of us have mixed backgrounds and influences. We struggle between holding on to our cultural heritage and fitting in, and nowhere is this more clearly expressed than through food.” Our “Food and Culture” episode explores how what we eat connects us with who we are through a variety of stories that unfold across America. The episode begins in South Carolina where filmmaker Julie Dash, writer/NPR commentator Vertamae Grosvenor, and poet Nikki Finney cook rice and share memories about their unique Geechee heritage. We explore how one culture’s delicacy can be another’s ultimate gross-out as we learn about an unusual fruit called the durian, which is a truly acquired taste. We then visit a reservation in Neah Bay, Washington, where the Makah Indians are returning to their ancient tradition of hunting and eating whale, to the displeasure of some non-Makah; hear Hawaiians celebrate kalo and poi; and, finally, visit with a large Czech community in south-central Texas where the art of making the kolache, a danish-like pastry, is still being handed down through the generations. In an America lined coast-to-coast with fast-food and generic chain restaurants, holding on to the foods that make us unique and remind us of where we came from can be a challenge. But as we see in this episode, food is perhaps the thing a culture clings to with the greatest passion, against the tide of mainstream America.


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Episode 3: "Food & Family"
looks at the complex way food defines families

Food is a tie that binds us to our families in powerful and pervasive ways. From our first sip of mother’s milk to a post-funeral potluck buffet, our lives are bracketed by and defined by food. Shopping for food, preparing it, eating it — through these small, daily rituals, bonds are forged and memories are created.In “Food and Family,” we meet several families whose relationship with food is central. We visit a 24-hour diner in Chicago where people come together in a sometimes decades-long ritual of communing and consuming. Through Hsiao-Ching Chou, the award-winning food writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, we explore the complex tangle of love and duty experienced by many of the families that run the more than 25,000 Chinese restaurants nationwide. Hsiao-Ching takes us back home to the family restaurant in Missouri and shares bittersweet memories of seven-day work weeks — as well as her family’s prized recipe for dumplings. We learn about the elaborate art of “obento” — the creation of exquisite, jewel-like lunch box treats that some Japanese-American mothers still practice; visit with the Cruz family of San Benito, Texas as they celebrate the Christmas holidays with a tamale-making marathon called a “tamalada;” and go to St. Paul, Minnesota for a peek into the local male-bonding ritual called a “booya,” the creation of a huge stew that’s made from a recipe passed from father to son, takes all night, and requires lots of beer in both the pot and the chefs. Our episode ends with the funeral of Vaai Fano, a Samoan woman who is honored by her huge extended family with a traditional week-long gathering done 'fa’a Samoa’ — in the Samoan way — that includes the feeding of hundreds of friends and relations.

  • Introduction with Marcus Samuelsson
  • White Palace Grill
    (1159 South Canal St., Chicago, IL)
  • Chou's Buffet, part I
    (cf., China > Food)
  • Obento: A Mother's Love
    (cf., Japan > Food)
    (cf.,Anne Allison, "Japanese Mothers and Obentō: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus." Anthropological Quarterly 64, 4: 195-208, [October 1991])
  • Tamalada: Moms & Daughters
    (San Benito, Texas)
  • Booya Kings: Dads & Sons
    ("male bonding ritual" in St. Paul, MN)
    class Booyah WebPage
  • Samoan Funeral Food
  • Chou's Buffet, Part II
    (cf., China > Food)
  • The Meaning of Food: Everybody Eats


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Terms / Concepts

  • foodways
  • foodstuffs
  • universal human expierience
  • cultural universals
  • "primal human impulses"
  • omnivore
  • Krause's end bulbs -- touch sensors
  • taste receptors
    • salt
    • sour
    • sweet
    • bitter
    • umami
      • Kikunae Ikeda
  • taste
  • aftertaste
  • remembered taste
  • sense of smell
  • layers of meaning
  • feasts
  • rituals
    • practical
    • social
    • rites of passage
    • prasadam, spiritual food of Hindus
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  • fasts
    • Lent
    • Ramadan
      • imsak, the meal eaten before sunrise
      • iftar, the evening meal after sunset
      • Eid, the last day of Ramadan
    • Swam, "the fast"
      • one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam
    • abstinence
      • practice of the Roman Catholic Church to refrain from eating meat or meat broth
  • famine
  • Proust Syndrome
    • "... We are born to the flavors adn food preferences of our mother's culture...." and these "tastes become the tastes of home and will remain owerful emotional triggers throughout our lives"
  • refined products
  • capsaicin -- alkaloid that makes chile peppers hot
  • conquistadores
  • "Burger Culture"
  • "Doctrine of Signatures"
    • "various plants can affect body parts they resemble"
  • aphrodisiac
  • "last meal"
  • thanksgiving (concept of)
  • Thanksgiving
  • cornnucopia -- a pagan symbol of plenty
  • Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos)
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  • spelt -- a primitive form of wheat
  • "flat bread"
  • nixtamal / nixtamalization
  • potato
  • Potato Famine
  • rice
  • yam
  • manioc
    • fufi
  • taro / kalo
  • durian
    • prickly fruit related to the pineapple and papaya
    • aphrodisiac?
    • authorities in Indonesia ban the durian from public transportation because it has such a strong odor
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  • poi
  • chitlins
  • kolaches
  • booya
  • tamales / tamalada
  • buñelos
  • pot stickers
  • balti (food)
    • "'Balti' is the name for a style of food very popular in Birmingham, England. Balti food was brought to UK by the expatriate Pakistani community from Mirpur and its surroundings. Balti is a popular cuisine in Mirpur and adjoining Potohar area of Northern Pakistan."
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  • domestication
    • plant
    • animal
  • neophobia
    • fear of and resistance to new things
  • Flavor-Principle
    • Elisabeth Rozin
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  • cuisines
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  • "Botanists have identified more than 75,000 edible species of plants, and humans have eaten about 7,000 of them over the span of history. Yet the modern world depends on only about 20 species (mostly grains) to provide 80 percent of the world's food." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 40

  • "Roughly 2,600 years ago in India, Vedic sage and healer Charaka observed, 'You are what you eat,' and people have been paraphrasing him ever since." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 61

  • "The crudest sland reduces entire ethnic groups to a single dish from their cuisines, turning good food into bad feelings...." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 61

  • "[Food] is almost always the last vestige of ethnic identity surrender as immigrants assimilate into mainstream America." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 61

  • "Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are." Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1825 -- The Meaning of Food, p. 62

  • "Our cuisine tells the world about us: our values, our class and gender structures, our beliefs. Specific foods, methods to prepare them, and the proper way and time to eat them are often the last things that individual cultural groups surrender in the process of assimilation." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 83

  • "Our culture considers eating sentient or companion animals the next thing to cannibalism, perhaps the deepest food taboo of all. Still, hunger trumps most taboos and food prejudices." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 62
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  • "That most American of fast-food institutions, the food court at the mall, may even best symboize just who we are as a culture" -- The Meaning of Food, p. 105

  • "With the disappearance of fireplace cooking, the kitchen table has replaced the hearth." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 107

  • "Ironically, the family dinner so sacrosanct in the folklore of mainstream American culture is a relatively recent phenomenon. The middle-class family dinner didn't exist in the early nineteenth century, when people grabbed meals when they could." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 110

  • "According to industry sources, the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook ranks behind only the Bible and the dictionary as the best-selling book in the world." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 114

  • "The summertime crawfish, shrimp, and crab boils of Louisiana's Cajun country often take on the same sense of social ritual. The head cook drafts anyone who wanders past to help clean crawfish, chop onions, and stir the stew. Men and boys gather by the pots and the pits to tell jokes, exchange community news, question each other's culinary and sexual proficiency, and sing risqué songs off-key. It's called male bonding." -- The Meaning of Food, p. 119

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Cultures / Countries / Places

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  • JFK Airport
  • Maasai, East Afican cattle group, Kenya
  • Makah / Qwiqwidicciat, Northwest Coast
    • whaling
  • Melanesia
    • food
  • Mexico
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  • Richard Axel -- sense of smell research
  • James Beard
  • Jean-Anthelme Birillant-Savarin -- "founding father of taste research"
  • Linda Buck -- sense of smell research
  • Frieda Caplan
    • Frieda's Finest
    • supplier of what were than (1962) exotic foods
    • "introduced Americans to kiwifruit, brown mushrooms, shallots, mangoes, and a range of other products that are now staples on grocery store shelves"
  • Julia Child
  • Hsiao-Ching Chou (food journalist)
  • Edward E. Evans-Pritchard
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Mita Guha
  • Kikunae Ikeda
  • Emeril Lagasse
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  • Marcus Samuelsson
    • Aquavit Restaurant
    • Ringo Restaurant
  • Bronislaw Malinowski
  • Mike Piancone
  • Paul Theroux -- travel essayist
  • Elisabeth Rozin
    • Flavor-Principle
  • Alice Waters
    • Chez Panisse, Berkeley, CA

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Publications / Bibliography (Adapted from PBS)

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  • Print Media

    • Angelou, Maya. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes. New York: Random House, 2004.

    • Bartlett, Jonathan. The Cook's Dictionary and Culinary Reference. Contemporary Books.

    • Brown, Linda Keller and Mussell, eds. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

    • Counihan, Carole and Van Esterik, Penny, eds. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997.

    • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press.

    • De Silva, Cara, ed. In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin. Translated from the Czech and Yiddish by Bianca Steiner Brown. New Jersey and London: Rowman & Littlefield, an imprint of Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996.

    • Denker, Joel. The World on a Plate: A Tour through the History of America's Ethnic Cuisine. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003.

    • Esquivel, Laura. Between Two Fires: Intimate Writing on Life, Love, Food & Flavor. Translated from the Spanish by Stephen Lytle. New York: Crown Publishers, 2000.

    • Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. Translated from the Spanish by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    • Farb, Peter, and George Armelagos. Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.

    • Fisher, M.F.K. The Gastronomical Me. New York: North Point Press, 1943, 1954.
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    • Haber, Barbara. From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals. New York: The Free Press, 2002.

    • Harris, Patricia, David Lyon, and Sue McLaughlin. 2005. The Meaning of Food: The Companion to the PBS Televisio Series Hosted by Marchs Samuelsson. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.

    • Herbst, Sharon Tyler. The New Food Lover's Companion (Third Edition). Barron's.

    • Kahn, Miriam. Always Hungry, Never Greedy: Food and the Expression of Gender in a Melanesian Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    • Kame'eleihiwa, Lilikala. Native Land and Foreign Desires. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992.

    • Kass, Leon. The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature. New York: Free Press, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1994.

    • Kirlin, Katherine S. Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 1991.
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    • Laudan, Rachel. The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii's Culinary Heritage. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1996.

    • MacClancy, Jeremy. Consuming Culture. London: Chapman, 1992.

    • Mariani, John F. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. Hearst Books.

    • Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking, 1985.

    • Mintz, Sidney W. Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions Into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

    • Pillsbury, Richard. No Foreign Food: The American Diet in Time and Place. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

    • Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone. New York: Random House, 1998.

    • Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. New York: Viking Penguin, 2004.

    • Winegardner, Mark, ed. We Are What We Ate: 24 Memories of Food. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
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