Marvin Harris (1985), in his Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, gives a deep insight into the variations and differences in the food habits and preferences from one society or culture to the other. He explores the reasons behind food habits which are adopted by different communities and he almost uses a theoretical approach to explain why certain communities prefer certain kinds of foods and abhor others.
In his book, the author organizes his work in chapters which include good to think or good to eat , meat hunger, the riddle of the sacred cow, the abominable pig, hippophagy, holy beef U.S.A, lactphiles and lactophobes (milk lovers and milk haters), small things, dogs, cats, dingoes and other pets, people eating and better to eat.
Marvin (1985) highlights the influence of culture on our food preferences and on shared notions of what is good to eat and what is repulsive. In his book, he also explores the diversity of the various food preferences and habits.
He attempts to answer questions that include why various groups detest the mention and consumption of various foods for example the American populace with dog and horse meat, the Jews and Muslims with pork, South East Asians with milk, the Hindus with beef, and other societies attempt to detest cannibalism and the consumption of insects and pets.
The author (Marvin) explores food habits in an informative detective adventure and uses his writing prowess in an attempt to solve the major puzzles which surround the food habits of various cultural groups and other groups of people.
Therefore according to Marvin Harris, the major differences which exist in the cuisines of the world (varied ‘food ways’) can also be attributed and traced back to ecological restraints and opportunities which vary from one culture of society to the other. He explores the varied cultural and societal phenomena mentioned above and attributes them not from arbitrariness of cultural and societal symbolism but to a rational basis in terms of circumstances, costs and benefits (Marvin, 1985).
The author, an anthropologist writer, also explores the gastronomic customs of the world and demonstrates the importance of practical, economic and political necessities and influences in shaping peoples perceptions about the foods they consume, ultimately affecting their choice of foods and food habits.
Therefore, when a person perceives certain kinds of foods to be irrational, Marvin suggests that such a perception is a result of practical, economic and political necessities. In this regard, he uses a smart and spirited treatment of food behavior to shed light and knowledge on different topics such as reasons behind the emergence of fast foods, and the reasons for historical influences that lead people to perceive certain kinds of foods to be unpalatable, for example reasons such as death.
Good to eat is a thought provoking and intellectual journey that the author takes, in terms of the different kinds of food habits adopted by various groups of people and the reasons behind such habits. In his writing, Marvin attempts to demystify causes of the various differences in human culture through a highly readable, fascinating and scientifically accurate thoughts and explorations presented in his book (Marvin, 1985).
Marvin Harris explores food habits from a wide scope of ancient and modern societies. He uses various theories to explain the effects of different religious and customary laws and how they influence the cultural attitudes that various societies have towards different types of foods (Marvin, 1985).
In some chapters, the author explores the approved and forbidden kinds of foods in different societies. Such kinds of foods which the author explores includes insects, fish, horsemeat, animal and human flesh. The author’s provocative views on food habits tend to rely on laws and regulations which attempt to govern comestibles in various societies and cultures.
For example, the author suggests that swine herding was not practical for nomads who stayed in deserts and therefore, pork was regarded as a taboo not because pigs were impure and unclean but because they required a lot of demand in terms of care, which they wee not in a position to offer. In terms of the tastes of the various kinds of foods, Marvin suggests that what a group of people perceives to be good to eat has translated to maximal sales of such kinds of foods, especially in Capitalist courtiers like the United States (Marvin, 1985).
The author also explores the concept of warfare cannibalism by basing on what the Aztecs used to practice. He suggests that modern societies and cultures detest the practice of cannibalism because of the reason that the power structure largely derives benefit from keeping vanquished people alive so that they can produce for societies or the state.
This is to infer that before the emergence of the state, villages did not have the bureaucracy and technology for use by slaves hence the cost-effective means was cannibalism. Therefore, Marvin Harris, book is against the socio-biological arguments and triumphs most of its explanations which attribute most of human and environment al activities and phenomena to genetics. He uses a cultural-beliefs approach to explain the variations of various societal food habits (Marvin, 1985).
Furthermore, the author depicts an integrated set of theories regarding people’s dietary behavior in terms of their avoidances and their preferences. He designs the theories through use of parsimonious sets of culture and materialist principles. When writing his book, the author attempts to present plausible theories regarding ‘food ways’ (what people avoid what they prefer to eat).
Marvin Harris uses the paradigm of cultural materialism and sets the principles which state that there is an increase in the conditions which govern the probability of selection for or against certain kinds of foods. In his paradigm aspect, he selects innovations for or against certain food habits which depict conformity to the ectic behavioral satisfaction of a small number of bio-psychological drives or needs (Marvin, 1985).
The hunger for meat and fat have been facts of human life for a long time hence Marvin Harris suggests that populations have tremendously increased to the extent that meat and fat have proved hard and almost impossible to get especially for poor people.
Therefore the author’s writings make one to perceive that overpopulation is the most detrimental aspect of human life and wellbeing causing the depletion of resources. In addition, the author uses such a reason to theorize and explain certain aspects of cannibalism, for example, when he suggests that cannibalism is a result of stress posed on the body by the ‘lack of’ and depletion of proteins (Marvin, 1985).
Marvin Harris (1985) ‘Good to Eat: Riddles of food and culture’ is interesting and recommended for both lay persons and academicians. This is because the unique style and writing prowess which the writer uses make a person to be knowledgeable and understand the various food habits which exist in societies.
The book has been instrumental in informing my knowledge of differences in food habits among various societies and the nature of the savages of the United States, unlike my previous thoughts that conquistadors were horrible. According to Marvin Harris, lack of consumption of horse meat is a consequence of the horse’s ineffective conversion of grass to meat. Therefore, horse meat is likely to be more expensive than other sources of meat (Marvin, 1985).
Marvin, H. (1985). Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-671-50366-9.