Food and Social Life

Short blog entry by Jacques Attali on statistics about shared meals in “Western Civilizations.”

Conversation avec Jacques Attali: Dînons ensemble

The main claim is that France is still at the top of the list of places where people do enjoy shared meals. Still, Attali does mention some of the realities hidden by those statistics.

Interestingly enough, several of the comments on this entry are about other parts of the world where food consumption is an important social activity, including parts of Asia and Africa.

To me, a basic part of ethnography has to do with groups formed at meals. In some cases, it might be a group of relatives considered as a “household” or “family unit.” In other contexts, meal sharers might consider themselves to be part of the same social group, as when all members of the same age-set eat together.

There’s also the shared consumption of non-nutritional items like tea and alcohol. Perhaps because of my passion for both coffee and beer, I find the process of having coffee or beer with someone else one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have. The complex aromas of those drinks do enhance the experience and the fact that their nutritional value isn’t the main point of their consumption makes the event less utilitarian than socially consequent.

No idea if there are statistics on shared consumption of drinks but they clearly represent an important domain for the study of social life.

4 thoughts on “Food and Social Life”

  1. I would say that 90% of my ethnographic work has been done around meals and coffee or tea. It is the best and most comfortable environment for sharing thoughts in my view.


  2. Exactly. And I’m always surprised that ethnographers don’t say more about these contexts. The very act of sharing. The cultural identity of some drinks and meals (e.g. Turks and coffee, Malian tô…). Who has tea with whom. Planning the day with meals and drinks. Dinner parties. Food and ritual. Gender-specific foods. Etc.
    Worth exploring.

  3. Christine Jourdain travaille sur les idéologies de la cuisine et de la nourriture je pense. Elle aura des choses intéressantes à en dire!

    Moi, je trouve qu’en mangeant, nous revenons à l’essentiel. Ça met de l’avant que nous sommes tous les deux humains et que nous partageons ce geste qui est essentiel pour notre survie: manger et vivre en société …

    En plus, ça permet aussi de sortir de temps en temps de la posture (interviewer-interviewee).


  4. Yeah, the whole field of anthropology of food has a lot of interesting to say about similar issues. In fact, I was really impressed by those who work on food and culture.
    But I haven’t seen what I would expect in terms of widespread recognition of shared food consumption as fundamental to both culture and ethnography.

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