You and your family head over to the store to do your weekly grocery shopping Sunday after church. You run into several member of your congregation while you are standing at the meat counter selecting the various meats that you will need for your meals the following week. This is a typical Sunday afternoon.
At 3:30 am on November 15, you can be found in your deer blind patiently waiting for the sound of rustling leaves. Finally a huge eight point buck steps into your sights. You successfully take the shot relieved to have meat to feed your family with for the next couple of months. This is a typical start to deer hunting season.
How do you get the meat for your meals?
How does food help create culture? First, what is culture? According to Conley (2013), “culture is a set of beliefs, traditions, and practices; the sum total of social categories and concepts we embrace in addition to beliefs, behaviors (except instinctual ones), and practices; that which is not the natural environment around us.” (p. 77). There are different beliefs
or traditions on how people gather the food that they need to feed their family. Families in the video clip, “Eating Alaska”, discuss the fact that their families have been fishing, hunting and gathering their food for many generations. It’s just what they have done and continue to do. A majority of the people from the area that I am from buy their meat from the grocery store. Many of the people in the Upper Peninsula tend to incorporate both methods. All of these ways create the culture that we live in.
The researcher in the video clip about Alaska asked one of the individuals if she thought there was a way that non-natives who appreciate being there (in that part of Alaska) could live off the land and not get in the way. The response
was no. The researcher later asked a man catching shrimp how he could be a hunter/gatherer and also a hippie/environmentalist. The man’s response was that he didn’t think you could be anything but both unless you were ignorant of where food came from and our place in the food chain. These feelings elicited an ethnocentric feeling towards their culture. It seems that they felt that their culture was superior to others. The woman didn’t even want to let anyone else into her culture. She felt that non-natives would not be able to respect the land like the people of her culture have been raised to do from birth.
Could the way that you get your food place you in a subcategory? The fact that all of society has to agree on is that everyone has to eat. The way that we get our foods to eat is where the differences are. Conley (2013) defines subculture as “the distinct cultural values and behavioral patterns of a particular group in society; a group united by sets of concepts, values, symbols, and shared meaning specific to the members of that group distinctive enough to distinguish it from others within the same culture or society.” (p. 87). The people in the video clip is just one area of Alaska. Not all areas of Alaska feel that hunting and gathering is the only way to get the food that they eat. This group of people has distinguish
ed itself from the same society. They know that when it is time to go shopping that means to go out and catch something fresh from nature. This is similar to a select group of people in the Upper Peninsula collectively see November 15 as the first day of rifle deer season. Not everyone in society views the date the same way.
If you had to kill and clean what you ate, how might that change your diet? I was not brought up in a hunting environment. The only fresh meat that I ever had was some venison that my father received from the butcher after accidentally hitting a buck with his car one night. I rarely fished growing up and never brought home and ate the fish that I caught when I did. My daughter once help a family friend kill and clean a chicken and brought it home for dinner. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. If I was to kill and clean what I ate now, after 38 years of living the other way, my diet would change dramatically. I have nothing against hunting, I just like to not think about where the food I eat comes from. I am sure that I would greatly reduce the amount of meat in my diet to probably a vegetarian life style (which would be devastating since I don’t like most vegetables). My culture would also reflect this change. I would start associating with people who were vegetarians like I would be. I would stop, or limit, the amount of time spent with individuals who could still gather their food already prepared. I wouldn’t have as much in common with them and would want to surround myself with people that were similar to me.
So which culture is right? They all are. That’s what makes the society that we live in so interesting!
Conley, Dalton (2013). You May Ask Yourself. New York. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.