Fast Facts: Food and Feasts


Image: A table of food celebrating the Nowruz holiday in Tajikistan, by Ibrahim Rustamov.

  • Sharing a table of food is considered a show of goodwill across cultures.
  • The Pathans of Pakistan’s Swat region even treat enemies like guests at the table until they leave the host’s territory, according to anthropologist Luci Fernandes. After which, they could be killed.
  • The term “potluck” came from potlatch, a communal gift-giving feast among native tribes of the northwestern United States.
  • Feasts can maintain alliances, settle disputes, demonstrate future leadership, commemorate marriages, births and rites of passage, and are often religious in nature.
Illustration of an Aztec meal. Image: The Florentine Codex.

Illustration of an Aztec meal. Image: The Florentine Codex.

  • The Western world emphasizes slenderness as a beauty ideal. Conditions like anorexia and bulimia are much more prevalent than in the non-Western world.
  • In other regions, such as rural Jamaica, plumpness is a mark of health, sweetness and good relationships, according to Fernandes. This is because these people are thought to have a strong kinship network that comes with a lot of food in an area with limited resources. Thin people are considered stingy and mean by comparison.
  • Even in Western history, classical painters considered heavier women more attractive because they were more likely to be rich and amply fed.
  • Most hunter-gatherer tribes have feasts when there is extra food. They cannot store the surplus because they are constantly on the move. Such sharing generates goodwill with others who may return the favor.
  • Some believe the roots of political systems originally stem from feasts and festivals.
  • Fasting is nearly universal to the world’s religions. It is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam and observed in the holy month of Ramadan. It’s featured in Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism and others to gain self-knowledge, self-control, purification, devotion or even preparation for a divine encounter.
  • Dining etiquette is considered important across the world, and yet practices differ greatly. Tipping can be rude in Japan, and belching can be polite in China.

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