food for thought

Food is a great area for exploration because of it’s central nature in culture, and the close interplay between the genetic and memetic realms. The fundamental relationship that we have with food is on a biological level for human organism to function and survive. Our experience of food on a daily basis has little to do with survival anymore though and has become intensely cultural, social, and commercial. Food then sets the stage for culture to manipulate systems of ideas to play on this biological foundation.

Let’s start with some examples to get us thinking about food in a meme frame of mind; let’s start with meals. There is a fundamental idea that food should be consumed in discrete bulk events, but why not steadily throughout the day? Other animals graze. Humans could, depending on the food, eat continuously throughout the day – indeed some do and there are “diets” that recommend this approach.  If we do have meals, how many per day? 3 sq meals ? two meals? Taco bell has a catchy advertising scheme that suggests they are the perfect 4th meal.

If you have done any traveling you don’t have to go far to see significant differences in mealtime memes. Think of Spain, Italy, America, Britain, china; each nationality and culture has different concepts about the structure, size, pace, frequency, and posture of what a meal is before we even start to consider what is eaten.

Now let’s take a taste of some food memes. How’s this for a start “peanut butter and___” What comes to mind? Realize that any pairing in this case represents a meme. There is nothing innate or biological about what peanut butter should go with. Potential answers to this question might be  jelly, fluff, or celery. Realize as well that the concept of a sandwich itself – the idea of putting something between two pieces of bread Is an idea. Recipes are instructions, they are ideas for how food should be put together for consumption. What do you put on your sandwich? Is it mustard, mayo, or humus? Fish and______ (chips or  asparagus) Beans and ____(franks, or rice). These simple food pairing memes show how we have been imprinted with ideas about what we eat. The impact and consequences of food memes are far-reaching. They are often sold to us by restaurants or companies to the detriment of our health.

My beef is exactly this. Our “ideas” about what a meal is, or should be, are causing major problems for health in the US. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes are killing people. The way we think about food is costing lives, and billions of dollars in health care costs.  The Ted talk by Jamie Oliver is a great reference to get anybody fired up on this topic.

The meme frame of reference works perfectly here because we begin to see the way that we are slaves to ideas of food. It is critical for us to understand how food concepts take control of our minds because they are destroying our bodies.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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