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foodany natural or processed substance ingested by a living organism and metabolized into energy and body tissue. Food is fundamental to wellbeing as well as to existence.
Sociological interest in the production, preparation and consumption of foods is concerned with the ways in which social roles and relationships arise in relation to food. The allocation of food involves power and privilege, and social norms and roles often define who may prepare and eat different kinds of foods, and when and where they may be eaten. Given this, there can be no question of a sociology of food which is not dependent on central areas of sociology, e.g. different MODES OF PRODUCTION and patterns of trade, as well as more obvious areas such as the sociology of agriculture and food processing and food distribution (see AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION, AGRIBUSINESS, TERMS OF TRADE, FAMINE, GREEN REVOLUTION).
Within a more focused study of the sociology of food, a main topic of interest has been that in offering and accepting food, people engage in forms of symbolic interaction using foodstuffs as a language and as a form of EXCHANGE to express and cement social relationships (see also COMMENSALITY). Sociologists and anthropologists (notably LÉVI-STRAUSS) have also been interested in the manner in which material objects become defined as fit for human consumption, and in the social values expressed by cooking, serving and eating different kinds of food. Women can be seen as having an ambivalent relationship to food because feeding the family well is both a social obligation and a source of personal satisfaction, while eating well may be associated with fears of gaining weight, or lack of self control, sometimes leading to eating disorders (see ANOREXIA NERVOSA; see also BODY, DOMESTIC LABOUR). The overall sociological study of systems of food processing and food distribution in modern societies can be integrated with more ‘microscopic’ studies. For example, new ways of food processing (e.g. pre-prepared and fast foods) which reduce the role of the FAMILY as a ‘production unit’, may be marketed by ADVERTISING which reinforces its importance as a ‘consumption unit’, demanding new standards in ‘motherhood’ or in feminine physical appearance. Finally changes in food manufacturing and food distribution in Western countries (e.g. supermarkets, concentrations of ownership, and increases in the horizontal and vertical integration of the production process, the Common Agricultural Policy) have implications for agriculture, and may profoundly affect welfare, in primary-product producing countries.
the inorganic and organic matter obtained by organisms from the environment and used for nutrition. Food is necessary for tissue growth, for restoration of tissues destroyed during metabolic activity, for maintenance of metabolic activity, and for replenishing expended energy. Such inorganic constituents as CO2 and H2O are the principal food of autotrophic organisms (most plants), which synthesize from these constituents the organic substances—proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—that constitute the food of heterotrophic organisms (some plants, all animals and man). Man’s food, whether natural or produced industrially, including artificial and synthetic food, is subjected to appropriate culinary treatment, principally the action of heat.
Food is one of the most important constituents of man’s life. The composition of food and methods of preparation vary according to such factors as technical development, economic activity, and geographic conditions. The use of both plant and animal food has played an important role in man’s development. This variety greatly influenced the physical development of man’s ancestors and especially of man’s brain. Fishing became widespread at the end of the Paleolithic period and furnished ancient man with a new food containing substances important for physical development. Man’s mastery of fire was of great importance in the history of food preparation: meats and vegetables were now roasted and baked over wood fires, on hot coals or ashes, on red-hot stones, and in pits lined with stones. The cooking of food made it easier to digest.
The invention of the saddle quern for grinding grain early in the Neolithic period led to the making of flat loaves, the first baked bread. Leavened dough and sourdough bread appeared much later, probably initially in the ancient Oriental countries.
The invention of earthenware in the early Neolithic period made possible the boiling of food. Among the methods that have long been used to preserve foods are various methods of drying, including air-drying, and freezing. Even before man began farming, he had learned to process some vegetables which were inedible or toxic when raw, such as yams and manioc, making them edible and removing the bitter taste. Honey and salt have been widely used as seasonings since ancient times. Various spices, for example cloves and pepper, were used in some localities; later, during the period of the great voyages of discovery, they were brought to Europe. Many beverages—beer, kvass, mead, and wine—have been known since antiquity.
The composition, preparation, and use of food, which are determined chiefly by man’s economic activity, gradually developed among different peoples into enduring traditions. For example, meat and dairy products were the principal foods of herdsmen, and vegetable products were the chief foods of farmers. Thus, certain foods were never utilized by some peoples, often because of religious prohibitions. For example, milk and dairy products were not used in China. The ban against pork observed by the nomads of Asia and Africa was reinforced by Judaism and Islam. Many folk customs and superstitions are connected with food. A shared meal is a form of communicating that goes back to ancient hunting feasts; to the use of special ritual food for holidays, weddings, and funerals; and to the custom of entertaining visitors and guests. A shared meal is often a symbol of kinship, reconciliation, or friendship. On the other hand, the customs of some peoples forbade meals with strangers, between men and women, or among persons of different castes and religions.
Beginning in ancient times, different peoples borrowed foods from one another. By the Neolithic period, grains and the bread made from them had spread from Southwest Asia throughout Europe. After the discovery of America, Europeans borrowed from the American Indians such foods as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and cocoa. Every national group has its own characteristic foods. Today, because of developing economic and cultural relations between different peoples, the mutual borrowing of national dishes and beverages takes place rapidly.
There are three stages in food preparation: the mechanical processing of raw materials, the manufacture of intermediary food products such as flour, and the application of heat. The first two stages, usually called cold processing, involve the removal of surface impurities. The changes taking place in foods during cooking facilitate their assimilation: structural stability decreases (in potatoes, for example, by ten to 12 times), foods become more accessible to the action of digestive enzymes, and toxins are destroyed or altered, for example, helvellic acid, present in mushrooms of the genera Morchella and Gyromitra. Heating kills most microorganisms in food but also destroys some valuable substances, especially vitamin C.
There are two types of cooking methods. The basic methods are the applications of moist and dry heat and combinations of the two; auxiliary methods are blanching and sautéing. Foods may be cooked in water, milk, or steam; an increase in the steam’s pressure hastens the cooking process. If food is cooked in a small amount of liquid, the method is called braising; stewing is braising with spices and seasonings. In grilling or broiling, the food is cooked in a small amount of fat on a range’s surface or in a broiler, but foods may also be grilled or broiled by means of coals or electric coils. The browning of flour and sautéing of such vegetables as carrots and onions before the final cooking retains the vegetable’s essential oils and carotene and increases the quantity of soluble matter in the flour.
Cooking causes various physicochemical changes to take place in food. The main protein sources are meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The proteins in these foods coagulate when heated, become modified, lose their ability to swell and dissolve, and become less resistant to enzymes. When these foods are boiled, their mineral salts and extractive substances diffuse with the moisture into the environment. When meat or fish is roasted or fried, water evaporates from the food’s surface; the resulting crust prevents the loss of nutrients. The tenderness of cooked meat or fish results from the conversion of the connective-tissue protein collagen into glutin; this process takes place most fully when fish is cooked. Another connective-tissue protein, elastin, undergoes little change during cooking. Milk albumin in the form of ash becomes modified when milk is boiled and forms particles on the sides of a vessel; coagulation also takes place in the surface film.
Carbohydrates too are altered in various ways by the application of heat. Starch becomes thickened during cooking as a result of the low-molecular fractions of the amylose, while amylopectin is converted into a gelatin. When vegetables and fruits are heated and fruit jellies are prepared, the disaccharides and starch are hydrolyzed to form dextrins and simple sugars. Starch is also dextrinized when potatoes are baked; the resulting crust imparts a characteristic taste and color. Heating converts the pectins in the cell walls into soluble pectin.
Fats change little when heated. Only after prolonged boiling do they become hydrolized, imparting a disagreeable taste and odor to the liquid in which they are boiled. Unsaturated fatty acids become oxidized during prolonged frying. Vitamin A and carotene are highly resistant to heating. Some 70 to 80 percent of various B vitamins, for example thiamine, riboflavin, and nicotinamide, are retained in cooked food, partially dissolving in the cooking liquid, which should be utilized and not discarded. Vegetables and fruits are blanched to prevent the loss of vitamin C; the process destroys the oxidizing enzymes in these foods. Ascorbic acid is oxidized spontaneously in alkaline media but is more stable in acid ones. Fat prevents the destruction of vitamin C.
Heating also changes the color of foods. The resulting melanoidins color broth, oven-heated milk, and overcooked jam. Vegetable chlorophyll in an acid medium becomes brown-green pheophytin, and in an alkaline medium, bright green chlorophyllin. Beet anthocyanins break down into monoglycosides and diglycosides.
Efforts to perfect food preparation involve a search for new foods, for substances that can improve food, and for means to accelerate cooking processes.
REFERENCEGigiena pitaniia, vols. 1–2. Edited by K. S. Petrovskii. Moscow, 1971.
What does it mean when you dream about food?
Food can symbolize the taking in of physical or nonphysical nourishment. Food can also represent enjoyment or indulgence. Finally, the dreaming mind often literalizes common verbal expressions—such as “food for thought” and “let me digest that”—in an effort to convey something to the conscious mind. (See also Groceries).