Video interview with Claude Fischler about the importance of food to our identities.
Duration: 01:31
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Transcription: 

The title It’s a matter of taste appears. Mr. Claude Fischler, food sociologist at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), speaks directly to the camera.

 

00:00-01:27

On the whole, culinary or food heritage is absolutely essential to constituting an identity. First of all, we are what we eat. This is common to all cultures. What exactly does that mean? It means that if I eat tiger, I’ll pounce like a tiger, be as vigorous as a tiger. That’s what people tell me when I arrive at the office every morning: “You put a tiger in your tank!” So I am what I eat. And if I am what I eat, I’d better know what I eat and know those who eat the same thing as I do, since we experience the same effect because we ingest the same thing. And those who eat other things, well, they’re extremely different! So we recognize each other, we who eat the same thing. And we tend to reject those who don’t eat the same thing. For example, the English called us French people frogs.  And since at least the 18t century, we’ve called the English roast beef. To us, the Germans are potato eaters, and Americans think they’re krauts—sauerkraut eaters—and so on…So what happens is that we become part of a group by sharing the food specific to the group. And we also become part of the same universe and even the cosmos since we share the same view of the world. And, of course, those who don’t share our view or our food, they’re the others.

It's a matter of taste

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are. It’s certainly a familiar expression. But Claude Fischler, a sociologist at the Centre national français de recherche scientifique, explains that these choices not only express our personality but also our culture and identity. 

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The foods we eat make us who we are and shape the world we live in, and our family traditions, culture and religion influence our choices. So do our lifestyles, socioeconomic situations and, ultimately, our personal tastes.

The ways in which we share our meals also define who we are and the groups to which we belong. Families who sit down to dinner together every night maintain their ties on a daily basis. Special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, religious holidays and Christmas celebrations also reaffirm identities and group solidarity. Typical national dishes serve as a cultural introduction and facilitate immigrant integration in a host society.

To eat is to consume the cultural symbols of the foods we choose. The elements that make up who we are—our family, ethnicity and social and religious identities—are confidentially connected to our food practices and then, literally, in our guts!