Eating out of your comfort zone can be a bit unsettling for the culinarily timid. Whether you are eating in someone
else's kitchen, a college cafeteria or a foreign country, new foods can be unappealing for a number of reasons.
Food acceptance is very personal, and shaped by the culture in which you live. If understanding cultural beliefs about
foods entices you, then you may enjoy learning about nutritional anthropology.
Anthropology is the scientific study of the origin and behavior of humans, which includes the development of societies
Nutritional anthropology takes this information and tries to understand individual and societal behaviors related to
food. Sounds interesting, doesn't it?
Recently, I attended a presentation entitled Nutritional Anthropology: People, Food and Culture," presented by Susan
Scrimshaw, President of the Sage Colleges in upstate New York. Scrimshaw's résumé is indeed impressive, and includes
research and leadership positions in the field of health care.
As a medical anthropologist, she lived and worked in foreign countries and experienced firsthand the social and
cultural influences on food consumption and nutrition.
She urged the audience of nutrition students and professionals to think about what goes into a typical diet." Things
like food procurement, food acceptance, food preparation, household distribution, food and health beliefs and even
gender differences were discussed.
With reference to nutritional anthropology, Scrimshaw introduced two concepts, cultural relativism and ethnocentrism.
Cultural relativism is when you analyze other cultures on their terms and not by your standards. Ethnocentrism, which
is cultural superiority, is just the opposite.
Keep these concepts in mind to practice food acceptance and avoid making judgments on foods that are different from
what you are used to eating.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I remember my grandmother picking dandelion leaves and other sidewalk greens to make
a salad. To some people, eating these weeds was quite strange. Today they package those weeds" in plastic bags and
call it mesclun.
My school lunches typically consisted of a piece of cheese, olives, a slice of Italian bread and fruit. At the time,this would have been acceptable for a fifth-grader living in Tuscany; but for me it was a little embarrassing. (I would
have preferred a bologna sandwich.)
How times have changed! Today, that lunch is a perfect example of the Mediterranean diet. It's funny how foods that
were familiar to me and unusual to others became more acceptable over time.
To me, unusual foods are what Andrew Zimmern eats on his TV show, Bizarre Foods" (Travel Channel). Although I like to
try new foods, watching this show can make me sick to my stomach. However, sometimes I imagine myself being brave
enough to have a taste.
Zimmern says the bird's nest soup is delicious, and the people eating with him look happy slurping up intestines,eyeballs and bugs.
Who's to say that what I eat is any better in taste or nutrition? Let's face it, if I were born on the other side of
the world, I would be craving bat wings instead of chicken wings.
I am not suggesting that you get that adventurous. However, the next time you have an opportunity to eat something new
and maybe a bit unusual, give it a try. Challenge yourself by exploring ethnic restaurants and preparing new recipes.
Don't be afraid; it's only food.