The establishment of the academic field of Food Studies is an indication that food in society plays other important roles other than only for human survival. This has led to a number of authors writing scholarly articles as well as fictional tales, depicting the other overlooked roles of food in the society. An American novelist ‘Charles Johnson’ has published three collections of short stories. In one collection, we find a short story “Dr. King’s Refrigerator,” which is inspired by food. The sociocultural role that food plays is shown. Another piece of work on food is a journal article produced by Martin F. Manalansan IV. He is an Anthropologist specializing in Asian American Studies, Latin American, and Caribbean studies, at the University of Illinois. He is also an author, who has written on topics such as gender, and food. One of his works on food is the “Prairescapes: Mapping food, loss, and longing.” In this article, Manalansan also depicts food as playing different roles from that of human survival. In this paper, I will use these two works to enforce food as a powerful social tool, with special social functions.
Many people overlook the other functions of food due to lack of knowledge. Charles Johnson’s “Dr. King’s Refrigerator,” is a fictional story of one Martin Luther King, Jr. He is busy looking for a theme for his Sunday sermon when he suddenly feels hungry and heads to his refrigerator for a snack. He finds food that prepared by his wife for her visitors the next morning. Seeing a variety of food, King suddenly starts making all sorts of connections with this food. The foods are from different world regions, and he is fascinated at how this food connected him to these world regions. The connection he feels is a pure interaction of Buddhism in the ideals of the Baptists. Charles Johnson writes, “Then he slowly put the apple down, feeling not so much hunger now as a profound indebtedness and thanksgiving- to everyone and everything in Creation” (Johnson 3). This also portrays Charles Johnson’s writing style as unique. He leaves the readers with pictures in the mind. The quote also brings out the fusion of religions, in this case, Buddhism and Baptist. The appreciation of nature and the belief that nature indirectly joins humans is a Buddhism notion that is felt by a Baptist preacher.
Charles John has widely employed symbolism to point out the other roles that food plays, He uses food to symbolize the cultures and the people from where they were grown. Johnson writes, “All of human culture, history, and civilization laid unscrolled at his feet, and he had only to step into his kitchen to discover it. He looked around the disheveled room, and he saw in each succulent fruit, each slice of bread, and each grain of rice a fragile, inescapable network of mutuality in which all earthly creatures were codependent, integrated, and tied in a single garment of destiny” (Johnson 3). Here, Johnson tries to emphasize that people should adopt a new way of perceiving at nature as human beings connect through nature. One does not have to be physically present in France in order to experience their culture. We can experience other people’s cultures, innovations, and civilization, by simply owning their products and eating their food. This shows that human beings are closer to each other than they think.
Johnson’s work has allowed for philosophy and literature to integrate. His passages are philosophical as well as epistemological. He makes readers curious and to wonder what the story drives to. He infuses his philosophical ideas in the well-developed characters. He incorporates reality with fantasy, under the guidance of philosophy. For instance, he argues,“When we get up in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap created by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Before we leave for our jobs, we are beholden to more than half the world” (Johnson 4). Johnson also showed the influence of religion in the existence of nature and human beings. By quoting the Bile book, Exodus 25:30, “You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times” (Johnson 3). This implies that the presence of the supernatural and of the people, is manifest in nature, including the foods we eat.
Similarly, Martin Manalansan brings forth the notions held by Charles Johnson on the special roles played by food. Apart from tantalizing our senses, food may mean a different thing to those who cannot afford it. This is shown in, “Unlike most mapping projects, this is not an attempt to fix time, space, and the sensual experiences of food. Rather, what follows below is a loose, nonlinear attempt to weave together sites and moments that speak to and about hunger and yearning” (Manalansan 361).
Food is a vehicle that carries our memories. Martin reminisces his childhood days when he smells the same kind of food his aunt used to cook back then. “I felt a pang of nostalgia from the milky, beefy, and caramel odors emanating from cooking meat. Instead of settling into this mid- western scene, the place pushed me into thinking of another place and time-my aunt’s kitchen in the Philippines and my childhood in the sixties” (Manalansan 362).
A notion much shared with Johnson is food gives us identity. The food one is used to since their childhood, is hard to forget. It is amazing how the human body may not digest any ‘new’ food substances in the system. Cases of milk intolerance are a proof of this. This shows clearly how a person identifies with their staple food. He said, “Rice keeps Filipinos strong and healthy and this was his way of staving off the ravages of the disease. Every immigrant has his or her own way of surviving an epidemic” (Manalansan 363).
The two pieces of work mainly point out the overlooked functions of food. They show that food interweaves the daily lives of people and carries messages that if decoded are of importance to us. Food carries social power, so if people would start looking beyond the fundamental role of food as a mechanism for survival, then maybe human beings would understand each other better.
Johnson, Charles. “Dr. King’s Refrigerator.” Scribner, 2005. 1-10.
Manalansan, Martin F. “Prairiescapes: Mapping Food, Loss, and Longing.” The Massachusetts Review 45.3 (2004): 361-365.
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