Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sahlins - Food as Symbolic Code

Sahlins, Marshall. "Food as Symbolic Code." From Alexander, Jeffrey C., and Steven Seidman. Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Sahlins demonstrates how the symbolic value of animals as (or as not) food actually serves to reveal and support the social hierarchy. "...this reproduction of the whole of nature constitutes an objectification of the whole of culture. By the systematic arrangement of meaningful differences assigned the concrete, the cultural order is realized also as an order of goods. The goods stand as an object code for the signification and valuation of persons and occasions, functions and situations. Operating on a specific logic of correspondence between material and social contrasts, production is thus the reproduction of the culture in a system of objects." (101)

For example, Americans value dogs as kin, and horses as servants of labor. He offers an example of a protest to horse meat being offered by a butcher, so horsemeat can be purchased, and is used as dogfood. But pork and beef, with beef being a more special meet, are never questioned as consumable meets. He also points out that this distinction - and who might eat horse or dog - also becomes enmeshed in a self-perception of Americans as civilized and blacks or other foreign nations as uncivilized...closer to animals.

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