In this chapter, we examine the language of food and drink. We look both at how we talk about food and also how we use food to talk about ourselves. The chapter concludes with a discussion of smell, because our sense of smell is closely tied in with the appreciation of food and drink. It is also inextricably linked to the most widely tabooed aspects of human life – bodily functions, sex, disease and death.
The significance of food
Everywhere, eating is a culturally transforming – sometimes a magically transforming – act. It has its own alchemy. It transmutes individuals into society and sickness into health. It changes personalities. It can sacralize apparently secular acts. It functions like ritual. It becomes ritual. It can make food divine or diabolic. It can release power. It can create bonds. It can signify revenge or love. It can proclaim identity. A change as revolutionary as any in the history of our species happened when eating stopped being merely practical and became ritual, too. From cannibals to homeopathists and health-foodies, eaters target foods which they think will burnish their characters, extend their powers, prolong their lives.
Before looking at the language of eating and drinking, consider for a moment the nature of these activities and what they mean to us. There is very much more at stake here than simply a means of keeping body and soul together.