November 17, 2000
Contact: Jennifer McNulty (831) 459-2495; firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE PASS THE CATERPILLAR STUFFING
New educational video fosters cultural understanding by revealing roots of food preferences
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SANTA CRUZ, CA--Instead of turkey and mashed potatoes, imagine filling your holiday
plate with fried spiders and rattlesnake. Sound yucky? Welcome to the world of food
preferences, where what is considered delicious--and disgusting--is more a matter
of culture than most people think.
"People feel very strongly about what they will and won't eat," said Dane
Archer, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who
has produced a new educational video about food entitled A World of Food: Tastes
and Taboos in Different Cultures.
"Westerners cringe at the thought of Asian cultures that eat dog meat, because
dogs are sacred in our culture," said Archer. "But Hindus feel the same
way about cows. Food preferences and taboos are so emotional that they're a powerful
way to teach tolerance."
People tend to regard their own diet as sensible and the diets of other cultures
as bizarre or irrational, which makes food a useful tool in teaching about cultural
diversity and respect, he said.
Archer's engaging 35-minute video features informative and sometimes funny interviews
about food with people from different cultures. The video describes religious prohibitions
against certain foods and presents a seven-rung food ladder, or "hierarchy of
eligible foods," that ranks what is considered edible, delicious, and disgusting
in various cultures. Viewers learn that all cultures, including American culture,
consume foods that people in other cultures see as highly debatable, inherently disgusting,
or simply too bizarre to eat at all.
"Many staples of the American diet, from hamburgers to Jell-O, are repulsive
to non-Westerners," said Archer. "Once people appreciate that, it's easier
to regard other cultural food choices with less suspicion."
As described in the video, the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing,
and cranberry sauce caused misery for a Filipina who had recently emigrated to the
United States. The woman's desire to be a polite guest conflicted with the horror
she felt about the food she was served. After managing to consume her portion, she
had to excuse herself to the bathroom, where she became physically ill.
Western viewers may recoil at descriptions in the video of tacos made with cow eyeballs,
meals that feature an animal's entire head, and "chocolate meat" (pork
cooked with pig's blood and intestines), but they'll likely be surprised by interviews
in which a young man of Mexican heritage describes what he considers the vile combination
of celery and peanut butter, followers of Islam marvel at the prevalence of pork
in the American diet, and a Hindu man describes the humiliation he felt upon learning
that the Jell-O he enjoys is made with gelatin from cows.
Archer, who has produced a series of videotapes about nonverbal communication, said
he tackled the subject of food prejudice as a way to address the recurring subthemes
of cultural differences and misunderstandings that emerged in his work on communication.
"The key to the system is understanding that wherever you are on the food ladder,
chances are you consider the lower rungs morally disgusting," explained Archer.
"And wherever you are on the ladder, someone is viewing your choices with disgust,
too. Understanding that hierarchy helps break down all those ethnocentric assumptions
that 'our way is the right way.'"
Or, as a Hindu woman in the video put it: "Every Hindu is taught to respect
everyone's culture, because we are all rivers that come into an ocean."
Note to journalists: Dane Archer can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com
or at (831) 426-4784. To receive a copy of A World of Food: Tastes and Taboos
in Different Cultures for review, contact Jennifer McNulty in the UCSC Public
Information Office at (831) 459-4399 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This videotape is designed to be used in high school and college classrooms; interested
faculty and teachers can obtain a copy from the University of California Extension
Center for Media and Independent Learning in Berkeley at (510) 642-0460.
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