Category Archives: food culture(s)

Feasting Together

It is said that a family who feasts together, stays together. For most people, food is seen as a source of energy and nutrition for the body, a necessity of life, but it is also a way for people form bonds others. In most cultures, families and communities come together to eat which establishes a connection between each other because when people share food at the table, they also share stories and experiences which elicits responses of laughter or even sympathy. Being able to connect on a personal level creates unity and a sense of community with others as illustrated by the Momotaro stories of Japan. Momotaro, a Japanese folk legend, leads his trusty squad into quests and battles in order to destroy the enemies that threaten the safety of Japan. In both visual and literary texts, food ties Momotaro and his crew together while also giving them the strength they need to carry on and become victorious in their quests.

In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotaro, food represents providence and good fortune for the old couple as well as used as a sign of respect and trust that creates a band of warriors who are loyal to Momotaro and his quest. When the old couple finds Momotaro, he is actually within a peach which happens to be a fruit that is highly valued and often associated with the gods in Japanese folklore. This implies that Momotaro is a blessing from the gods, meant to bring the couple together and to grant them happiness. Although Sazanami never mentions anything about the man and woman having any lack of nutrition, they work very hard so when the peach comes floating down the river, it is a significant event for the old couple becomes it is a reason for celebration and a reward for their work. It makes their life “healthier” in a sense with the appearance of Momotaro in their lives. He is a healthy addition to their lives and is very beneficial to their lonely life because his presence gives them joy and he helps out the old couple in their daily burdens. The old couple is so grateful for Momotaro and his influence on their lives that they willingly let him leave them for his quest to save Japan.

Momotaro begins his journey after the old couple makes him millet dumplings in order to ensure his well-being. Millet dumplings are a material objects that originally were only to serve the purpose of guarantee Momotaro’s well-being but instead they become a symbol of trust and acceptance into Momotaro’s followers. He offers half a millet dumpling to each of his new followers in order to feast with them and create a fellowship with the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant. Furthermore, by offering food to his followers, this situation begins to mimic the parent-child relationship where the parent provides for the child, which, in this situation, makes the three followers his dependents. Throughout the whole book, Momotaro is referred to as “Peach-boy” and even refers to himself as “Peach-boy” reinforcing the idea that he was a gift from the gods as sustenance to the old couple’s lives. After his quest, his role as sustenance is extended to Japan because he helps the country well-being in his victory over the Ogres.

Misuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle reinforces the idea of food as a way to form bonds but chooses to focuses on food as a unifier of Momotaro’s forces rather than an initiation of his followers as his forces head to the Demon’s island to face the enemy. In the film, the troops consume millet dumplings just as Momotaro and his followers did in Sazanami’s story, however, it is a feast among his many troops. Food becomes something to rally behind because it not only creates unity among the troops, but also gives them the strength to conquer the enemy. This is illustrated when one of the monkeys quickly wolfs down a millet dumpling and he suddenly becomes muscular enough to overwhelm the enemy with whom they are in combat with. As a propaganda film that was premiered in the midst of World War II, it paralleled the events that were occurring in the war and influenced citizens to cheer for Momotaro and his troops. Though it was Momotaro’s great leadership that led to the victory over the demons, the millet dumplings were what gave them the ability to do so and thus they are a representation of the strength of the Japanese people in the war. Millet dumplings were something that could be shared by all and creates a sense of camaraderie among the Japanese people and its troops.

Although the Momotaro tales are often associated with a noble journey and a victorious quest or purpose, Tsuchimoto’s Minimata: The Victims and Their World, alludes to the stories as people victimized because of food. Sustenance united Momotaro’s troops yet was the source of problems in Osaka. When people of Osaka consumed the fish of the nearby polluted waters, they also consumed mercury which resulted in a mass of innocent civilians with severe cases of Mercury poisoning. They relate their suffering to the people of Japan by equating their pain with living in “the land where blue and red ogres dwell” in order to convey the devastating the effects of mercury poising that ravaged their city. In alluding to the Momotaro stories with the ogres, the victims illustrate their situation simply because of the familiarity of the Momotaro stories to the Japanese people. This epidemic caused people to unite against the company that had polluted the water, to fight for justice and reparations. Although food caused this plague, it also brought people together to combat injustice and to band together in order to make a difference in the victims’ lives.

Having a sense of community is hard to find in a world that has many enemies and suppressors, but in partaking with others, a bond is formed between people who defend each other. In the Momotaro tales and film, food is a unifier that brings a group of people together to find strength to defeat the enemy as well as a reminder of one’s roots. The millet dumplings become a tie between the troops as they follow Momotaro into war. As for Minimata, the food that the community often shared together was poisoned, and thus, because of food, the people come together to fight the injustice of the big businesses that have polluted their lives. In each context, it is food that influences their actions and their outcome because it is an act of fellowship. Although food gives them strength to overcome the enemy, their victories did not stem from the consumption of food. Rather, it came from their ability to unite because of the personal connection formed in the act of partaking the food together.


Social Enrichment Through Food

Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.

Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.

The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.

Tokiyoshi Onoue's personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community's experience.

Tokiyoshi Onoue’s personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community’s experience.

In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.

The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.

Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.

The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.

Community outreach and development.

Community outreach and development.

Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.

The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.

While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.

Tampopo- The Western Way? The Correct Way?

Tampopo, a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, featuring a Japanese widow, Tampopo, struggling and making great effort in improving her rāmen shop. Though the main focus of Tampopo is the emphasis on careful preparation and enjoyment of a traditional humble dish of Japanese rāmen, the film also has various scenes that reflect on so-called “Western” food culture. Aside from entertaining the audience, the comedy has also played an important role in symbolizing the era during which Japan made effort in modeling Western culture.

Perhaps the most significant scene in the film is the Western dining etiquette instruction. The scene starts off with a well-dressed, confident, middle-aged woman giving a course on Western dining etiquette to a group of young ladies. A white man interrupts the instruction unconsciously by slurping out loud while eating his pasta. The group of young ladies then decide to follow the white man’s dining habit regardless of what they have learned previously.

Western dining etiquette instructor

Western dining etiquette instructor

Caucasian man slurping his pasta noodles.

Caucasian man slurping his pasta noodles.

        One may be humored by the young ladies’ outrageous movements of eating spaghetti, but there is a deeper meaning behind the scene. First of all, the middle-age woman making sure that the spaghetti is consumed in an extremely careful and respectful attitude presents the image of Western restaurants as high-end, similar to how it is often viewed in real life. A group of young ladies learning Western dining etiquette also shows the “feminization of western food consumption” as Western food becomes more popular in the upper-class female social context (Farrer, 11). But on the other hand, the scene also shows the characters’ misunderstanding of another culture. Given the impression of “Japanese slurp while eating noodles to show appreciation”, the Caucasian man emphasis the action on purpose. The Japanese ladies then believes that slurping is the correct Western dining etiquette and decide to imitate the white man. Both groups end up performing the incorrect dining etiquette for the opposite culture. In addition, the act of the Japanese ladies copying exactly what the white man does, reflects on the history of Japan during the late 19th century which the country adopts Western-style dining for formal occasion and models the Western countries to impress them with Japan’s ability to become “civilized” (Cwiertka, 14; 22).

Young ladies modeling the Caucasian man's dining habit

Young ladies modeling the Caucasian man’s dining habit

        Although Tampopo is a comedy film made in the late 20th century, it definitely has historical references to the 19th-century Japan. The importance of the Western dining etiquette scene is not just about playing its role of entertaining the audience, but more importantly, it relates closely to both Japan’s act of modeling Western culture in the late 19th century and the modern day impression of Western as “high-end” and a more “civilized” culture.


 Farrer, James. Eating the West and Beating the Rest: Culinary Occidentalism and Urban Soft Power in Asia’s Global Food Cities.

Cwiertka, Katarzyna. Western Food, Politics, and Fashion.

The New Tampopo Ramen Shop: Symbol of The Spirit of Japanese Reform

In my opinion, the scene in which Tampopo’s new ramen shop opens up is the most important scene in the whole movie, not only because it presents the achievement of Tampopo with the help of Goro and his friends, but also because it implies the spirit of Japanese reform under Western influence: accepting the Western culture, but keeping the Japanese essential, and developing Japan’s own unique hybrid culture.

The scene starts with a low-angle shot of Tampopo’s Ramen shop’s building, with a dandelion painted on the white wall. The Ramen shop is in fact just a two-story or three-story bungalow, however the long-angle shot makes it appear larger like a mansion, which indicates the new status of the ramen shop – it’s no longer just a run-down restaurant, but a new unique shop that will attract customers.

Then the camera shifts to Goro and his friends who helped Tampopo, being fascinated by the new appearance of the shop. The low-angle close-up here depicts their expression very well, and shows how incredible the new building looks to them as their mouths open, making “wow” sounds.

Tampopo in her new restaurant

Tampopo in her new restaurant

The fellows cheer and enter the shop, and Tampopo, the heroine in the movie, becomes the center of attention. As the screenshot shows, aside from Tampopo’s new attire, the entire shop is refurnished into a western style. The wall is now white, with clear glass skylight. All the bowls and plates are changed into white, and the counter and chairs are changed to a modern western style. A clear glass jar with fresh flowers and a modern-styled telephone are put on the modern counter. Pots and pans are now hanged orderly at back wall, and even the seasoning jars are switched to modern-styled glass ones. Together with Tampopo’s master chef attire, the new Tampopo Ramen shop looks like – instead of a traditional cheap Japanese ramen shop – an high-class and expensive Italian Restaurant.

And this is where the spirit of Japanese reform comes in. Tampopo has accepted the new changes that makes her shop better, including making the shop modern and western-styled. However, the essential of the restaurant is still ramen, the old, “ordinary” Japanese food. This spirit is expressed more explicitly as Tampopo goes out of the restaurant and hangs her old “RAMEN” label onto the white western-styled front door.

In the first half of the scene as the fellows are visiting Tampopo before the shop opens, an elegant waltz melody is played in the background, which creates a cheerful and light-hearted atmosphere. Then as customers begin to flow inside, the melody changes to a somewhat symphony-like style then variates into the theme melody of the movie, which shows that the goal of the story has been accomplished, and this is the happy finale of the story. As Goro steps out of the restaurant, he sees a line forming for the restaurant, and the line consists of people from different class: students, office workers, foreign businessmen, builders… This mise-en-scene not only shows the success of Tampopo’s restaurant, but also represents the success of Japanese reform: creating their own hybrid culture, and making it attractive and accessible to people from all parts of the society around the world.

Tampopo’s Success

The "masters" enjoying the perfect bowl of ramen.

The “masters” enjoying the perfect bowl of ramen.

Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is a bubble era film about an amateur ramen chef, Tampopo, striving to cook the perfect bowl of ramen. Yet, it is more than that. Along with Tampopo’s main plot, interwoven vignettes demonstrate the various messages Itami conveys in his film: satire of the materialism during the bubble era, nostalgia of the past, the breaking barriers and the establishment of new ones, and the importance of food and its role in establishing bonds, among others. The film’s climax, the moment when Tampopo succeeds in her quest for perfection, encompasses all of those central themes.

The satire of the new materialism of the 1980’s, although not obvious, is present in this pivotal scene. Throughout the shot, there are many close-ups of Tampopo’s anxious face, clearly indicating how much her “master’s” opinion of her ramen means to her. She looks like she is about to cry; that is how important this immaterial judgment means to her. The alternating light and dark lighting as well as the orchestral music further create the tense, heavy mood. This significance of ramen, and food in general, throughout the movie contrasts sharply to the emphasis placed on material objects during the ‘80’s. As Japan moved forward to become a modern country, people looked away from the small things of the past and left them behind. However, Itami’s focus on the everyday miracle of food points out Japan’s gradual abandonment of its traditions and expresses nostalgia for the past.

Ironically, Itami’s film also encourages progress and the breaking of barriers while creating new ones. The various vignettes, such as the manners lesson and the gangster’s inventive way to enjoy food with his lover, demonstrate different aspects of culture. The success of Tampopo also illustrates the breaking of boundaries. The old homeless master notes at the end of the scene that he never expected a woman to become a noodle chef, yet Tampopo has done just that. This is also juxtaposed to the fact that all her “masters” are male. She has broken down an old traditional barrier and has become an independent, successful woman, creating a modern social norm.

However, Itami’s focus on food is not just to support incorporation of the past and future, but also to emphasize the importance of food because of its role in establishing bonds. Throughout the film, this theme is constantly apparent, from the homeless’ union over food to the gangster and his lover’s unusual enjoyment of food. This is also apparent in the snapshot. The bright lighting, as well as the close-up of Tampopo’s tearful celebration, clearly demonstrates the importance of this scene. All five men, all with completely different backgrounds- a trucker and his sidekick, a homeless man, a butler, and a thug- all have come together for the sake of ramen. In the snapshot, all men are doing the same thing: enjoying a delicious bowl of ramen.

Tampopo’s triumph in creating the perfect ramen is not just a private, personal achievement, but she also succeeds in creating a food over which strangers from infinite walks of life can come together and bond.

Vibrator: Isolated in a Sea of Food

In the opening scene of Vibrator, food is featured in the primary form of pop cultural commodity. In the sequence, food represents pop cultural cliche, or corresponds directly to the protagonist’s social anxiety in relation to such cliches. Such immediate attention to food, and its associated consumer culture helps to quickly frame the protagonist as an outsider. It is this isolation, resulting from her inability to assimilate to the pop culture of her society, that enables her sharp criticisms. This isolation is nuanced by the almost threatening, and overwhelming presence of the collective food around her. This moment provides ample characterization; though it only encompasses the first couple minutes of the film, it helps the viewer to understand the protagonist, especially when she jumps into more spontaneous moments in the film.

The first few shots are quick, almost overwhelming skims across the supermarket, revealing shoppers and their prospective purchases. First a sea of magazines, panning over to curious customers, and refrigerated beverages in the background. A customer leaving, as another enters. A man on his cell phone walking past a section so quickly the camera cannot even identify its contents. And then a sign “WHITE DAY” and panning from one set of sweets to another, specifically shortbread cookies.


The camera work, just like the narrator, exudes social anxiety. The quick movements and handicam could either be intended to establish the tone of the film or to express the literal visual perspective of the female protagonist. It isn’t clear, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps what’s essential is the distant relationship enabled by the camera between the subject and the food. All these items are merely evidence of a commercial culture she doesn’t identify with, and that feels alien, and intrusive to her. Furthermore, there are no closeups of any of the food. Each item is not presented as an individual, really, but only in relationship to other food or people. They’re only presented in groupings, in walls  of food items, in crammed shelves. This builds the feel of the protagonist being so overwhelmed, in this scene. Given the implications of the camerawork, how can she not be? There is a constant sense of motion around her, nearly disorienting; yet she cannot escape the presence of the food. The groupings also emphasize the social importance of food; it only has power, in this scene, due to the collective nature.

The scene continues to explore food as a primarily social aspect. The narrator contemplates the vapidity of consumer oriented holidays, like valentines day, prefacing with “Will your valentine buy you chocolates?” Here, the camera is zoomed very closely on her eye, reflecting the introverted nature of her contemplations. She isn’t connected to her surroundings when she says these things. She isn’t part of the valentines day phenomenon. She is clearly differentiating herself, speaking as an outsider. This “outsider” feeling continues into the next couple statements, with “Don’t buy into the chocolate makers’ marketing ploy, you morons.”. As she says this, other shoppers are briefly shown, interacting normally, with the camera framed conventionally around them. When the camera returns to her, she seems distant, with her back turned, almost silhouetted against the artificially lit rows of food. And indeed, the protagonist is distant; she, at this moment, will never understand the happiness most people find in the artifice enforced by popular food culture.



Animations and Food: Dimensional Play

Mixed media systems, due to their reach in different mediums and their power to connect images and food, are the most effective in cultivating a relationship with food. This relationship is the availability to interpret food in more than one way through the different mediums of media. Specifically, animation as a cinematic genre seems to hold more power out of the other components of the mixed media systems due to the ease in creating motion and dynamic change with something that starts static.

The genre of animation, specifically earlier versions of it, had to find a way where drawings could hold their own breath of life. This breath usually translated to numerous pictures of the same scene, with slight changes here and there. This grueling task of drawing every frame for multiple times led to some shortcuts, where the illustration of movement in a scene was actually the character in the same position through different backgrounds. These slight tweaks of action made the drawings live as an end result.

Similar processes were done with food. In many animations and scenes made today, food begins as a 2-D image that is then turned active through the processes of animation. In essence, food becomes 3-D due to this movement. The food that the characters eat becomes real, and the relationship that they have with the food becomes an integral part of the plot. We see the character eating, and it’s not fake food at that point. The food becomes physical and somehow transcends the animation, becoming a consciousness of the viewer.

Another way that food in animation becomes real is through the use of marketing goods through animated characters. In the instance of Astro Boy, we find that when the main character was coupled with selling chocolate candies and goods, the different dimensions between the animation and the chocolate product became the same. In fact, the commercial that was used by the Meiji Seika Company to sell the sweets, at one point in making the commercials, had Astro Boy and the candy in the same frame. These types of commercials are found even today, where companies such as Windows and Nintendo play with these different dimensions and bring them together.

Animations may be seen as the best out of the other genres because it is able to transition from a static place of being to a dynamic state, making the food come alive. In many cases, food in animations comes into the plot as well, where characters may acknowledge the food that they are eating and naming it out loud. Other types of genres seem to stick to one dimension, either static or dynamic, and do not hold the ability to play around with both at once. This becomes an advantage for food to use animations as a medium because of the many forms it can be interpreted: it can be seen as part of the backdrop to the story, or it can be seen as part of the plot. With this dimensional play, food becomes something that both the characters and the viewers can connect to.

Spirited Away: Food As a Lens to the Spirit Within and Critique on Modernity

Japan 70, Natalie Jongjaroenlarp

Chihiro’s father sloppily digging into some food he found at the amusement park.

No-Face gives Chihiro bath tokens and watches her reaction to his gift.

In Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Chihiro and her family undertake an unexpected journey when they stop at a run-down, former amusement park. Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs as they eat the food in front of them at one of the stalls in the food market at the amusement park. Once this happens, Chihiro is forced to live in the spirit world and work until she can find a way to save her parents and get back to the human world.

Food relates to the spirit of each human being in Spirited Away. Magic berries that Haku, apprentice to the authority in charge of the bath house, gives Chihiro literally stops her from vanishing in the spirit world. She must eat something in order to survive and not disappear into thin air. Also, No-Face, a spirit who befriends Chihiro, goes crazy within the bath house and eats people and food as a result of his loneliness and sorrow. The spirit lives to observe others’ emotions to the gifts given to them.

Food also acts as a critique on modernity in this film. Chihiro’s parents represent typical modern parents. In this story, they are depicted as people who do not enjoy the authenticity of the food itself or even appreciate the taste of it. Once they see food, they inhale and dig in. They do not care to stop and savor the flavor or texture, as shown in the screen shot above. In addition, it emphasizes the modern notion that a culture can either be bought or sold. For instance, the parents eat the food in front of them, not knowing where it came from or who it belongs to. They assume that the person or people will be fine with them eating it as long as they have money to compensate for it. Another modern notion that is carried forward in this film is the idea that people’s will can overcome anything, including nature. For example, in the beginning, when Chihiro’s flowers die, her mother tells her that they will be fine once they put water on them when they get to the new house that they are moving to. This is before they find themselves at the ancient amusement park. Also, when Chihiro’s father decides to go on a whim after the family is lost, he accelerates the car a little too quickly. When his wife gets worried, he brushes off her careful words by stating that they will be fine because they have four-wheel drive.

Chihiro must learn to grow up quite a bit in the short amount of time she has. She takes a leadership role when she decides to stand up for her beliefs and not explore the old amusement park with her parents. Although, because she is still a child and in need of security and love, she winds up taking a journey she did not bargain for with her parents. A similar situation occurs when she leaves her family to eat when they are scarfing food. Her parents encourage her to eat the food sitting out with them. She refuses. This act of defiance and choice to stand by her opinions allows her to learn about the world in which spirits and humans coexist and the traditions of the past and innovations of the present collide. She learns through observation and is very mature for her age as a result. It’s easy to forget she is only ten years old when it seems like her parents need to take a lesson from her on the importance of safety and security.

Haku feeds Chihiro magic berries to help her survive in the spirit world and stop her from disappearing.

Dawn Neill – “Roti Or Ramen: The Behavioral Ecology Of Food Choice Among Rural And Urban Indo-Fijians”

Next Monday, April 30, UCLA’s Center for Behavior, Education, and Culture (BEC) will welcome Dawn Neill, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, for a talk from 11 AM to 2 PM in Haines 352. Here is Prof. Neill’s abstract:

Urbanization is proceeding rapidly in many developing countries as part of a larger process of development and involves the shift of rural residents to urban cities. The shift from a rural to urban ecology entails changes in patterns of food production and/or purchase, preparation, and consumption. Existing research has consistently demonstrated an association between urbanization and dietary changes linked to increasing rates of overweight and obesity. Rural-urban variation in food cost and availability modifies the individual-level costs and benefits associated with dietary choices. It is suggested that the traditional rural dietary pattern is undergoing modification as urbanization occurs and individual food choice tradeoffs result. Empirically-derived diet clusters are created from 24-hour dietary recalls from 306 urban and rural living Indo-Fijian children. Results suggest the existence of a rural-traditional vegetable-based pattern and an urban-modified pattern. Using an embodied capital framework, mother’s education is shown to be the strongest predictor of diet, along with number of offspring and parents’ childhood ecology; urban ecology does not significantly predict diet.  Mother’s embodied capital is also shown to be significantly associated with higher child BMIs, regardless of diet.

NY Times article on food studies as growth field @ university/grad level

Truly Food for Thought

Published: April 13, 2012

THE study of food has had a home in higher education for generations. Agriculture was a founding mission of the land-grant university system started in the 1860s. Nutrition programs are commonplace. Culinary schools were around long before Julia Child turned Le Cordon Bleu on its butter-sauced ear.

Cheryl Senter for The New York Times

Sarah Jacobson, left, who is in the food studies program at the University of New Hampshire, is a food stamp representative at a farmers market in Rollinsford, N.H.

But in an era of widespread interest, if not downright concern, about how that ear of corn, destined for a pot of boiling water on a perfect summer evening is grown, processed, marketed, distributed and used — and what it means for health, commerce, the economy and even the ecological state of the planet — colleges and universities have come to realize that the classic food disciplines simply will not do anymore.

And so food studies was born.

This new academic field, taking shape in an expanding number of colleges and universities, coordinates the food-related instruction sprinkled throughout academia in recognition that food is not just relevant, but critical to dozens of disciplines. It’s agriculture; it’s business; it’s health; it’s the economy; it’s the environment; it’s international relations; it’s war and peace.

Food studies is being embraced by students interested in new careers in food safety reform, local-food businesses and anti-obesity, equity and climate efforts, as well as those seeking broader contexts for traditional disciplines like culinary arts and farming.

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