In “Toward a Psychosociology of the Contemporary Food Consumption”, Roland Barthes argues that food has more significance than a mere substance of consumption; he explains food as a means of communication. He explains that certain food suggest certain situations. For example, a regular loaf of bread may signify a day-to-day life, however bread such as pain de mie signify party. Barthes also describes food for what it signifies than for what it is. He explains further that there are three main themes of food: the commemorative, anthropological, and health.
His example of a coffee advertisement giving an image of a break rather than the caffeine goes to show that food “transforms itself into situation. ” He concludes by stating that our food affects culture and vice versa in a never-ending cycle. In “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste”, Pierre Bourdieu discusses how the people in power dominate the idea of taste, an aesthetic concept. He theorizes that aesthetics is what creates class-based social groups and distances one class away from another. He emphasizes that it is the social origin, more than economic capital that produces aesthetic preferences.
He elaborates that people are born into the already established cultural atmosphere and acquires a basic sense of taste at an early age; this marks the defining moment of their establishment of taste as an aesthetic concept. From then on, the people will become to like or dislike the aesthetic concept of taste of another class. However, Bourdieu points out that despite such dislikes, the tastes of the dominant class often dictate other classes forcing those economically and culturally dominated class to conform to the dominant aesthetics of taste for the fear of appearing crude, vulgar, or tasteless.
In the case of Barthes’ argument, I agree that food have indeed become a source of communication however I still believe that the substance of food is of almost of equal value to the means of communication. By that I mean when considering food, both the means of communication through food and the substance of food is often important. Consider the farmers market at UCSD. Every Tuesday lunchtime, students rush over to the campus quad to get a taste of some delicious exotic food not sold on campus and take a mini break from their daily study routines.
The idea of farmers market signifies the idea of a break from classes and studying but it also shines a light on the food itself as something unconventional or exotic for the consumers. If the campus dining halls or food court at Price Center sold Torpasta (pasta wrapped around in bread) or Lemongrass Chicken Bowl (with their delicious special sauce) or if these food were not delicious to begin with, farmers market would not have succeeded for not many people would have the desire to travel to the main quad to eat common food or mediocre food despite the idea of a fun break time that farmers market projects.
As for Bourdieu’s theory on Distinction, I admit that a person’s consolidation of taste preference is largely based on his or her social origin rather than the economic capital. I do agree also that the dominant class dominates the aesthetic concept of taste over the dominated ones. However in modern society, with many resources to enlighten a person into new realms, there seems to be a few exceptions to his theory. For example, let’s consider Five Guys Burger.
If you walk into this fast food chain restaurant, it becomes obvious that it boasts of best burger in the country. The CQ magazine and newspapers praise its sensational taste of the burger for an affordable price and its genuine French fries. With the promotion and advertisement of these bourgeois food items such as a burger from powerful resources such as CQ magazine, despite class differences, quite a few people from the dominant class may in fact become an avid fan of a $5 burger from Five Guys despite their predilection for ‘bitter’ food as Bourdieu states.