-Folk food habits derive from the environment.

-Food customs are inevitably affected by the availability of products, but people do not simply eat what is available in their particular environment.

-Food habits are strongly influenced by cultural traditions. What is eaten establishes one’s social, religious, and ethnic member ship.

-Soup, the food consumed by poorer people, shows the distinctive traditions of the neighboring cultural groups in Transylvania.

-Romanians made sour bran soups from cracked wheat, corn, brown bread, and cherry tree twigs. Saxons instead simmered fatty pork in water, added sauerkraut or vinegar, and often used fruits. Jews preferred soups made from beets and sorrel rather than from meat. Armenians made soup based on churut (curdled milk) and grounded vegetables.

-Certain foods are eaten because their natural properties are perceived to enhance qualities considered desirable by the society, such as strength, fierceness, or lovemaking ability.

-The Abipone Indians of Paraguay eat jaguars and bulls to make them strong, brave, and swift.

-The mandrake, a plant native to Mediterranean climates, was thought to enhance an individual’s lovemaking abilities. The smell of the plant’s orange-colored berries is attractive, but the mandrake’s association with sexual prowess comes primarily from the appearance of the root, which is fleshy, thick, and forked, suggesting a man’s torso.

-People refuse to eat particular plants or animals that are thought to embody negative forces in the environment. This is called a taboo.

-The Ainus in Japan avoid eating otters because they are believed to be forgetful animals and consuming them could cause a loss of memory.

-Europeans blamed the potato for a variety of problems during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including typhoid, tuberculosis, and famine. They also resisted eating the potato because it resembled human deformities caused by leprosy.

-Before becoming pregnant, the Mbum Kpau women of Chad do not eat chicken or goat. Abstaining from consumption of these animals is thought to help escape pain in childbirth and to prevent birth of a child with abnormalities. During pregnancy, Mbum Kpau women avoid meat from antelopes with twisted horns, which could cause them to bear offspring with deformities.

-Some folk cultures may establish food taboos because of concern for the natural environment. These taboos may help to protect endangered animals or to conserve scarce natural resources.

-For example, to preserve scarce animal species, only a few high-ranking people in some tropical regions are permitted to hunt, whereas the majority cultivate crops.

-Muslims embrace the taboo against pork, because pigs are unsuited for the dry lands of the Arabian Peninsula. Pigs would compete with humans for food and water without offering compensating benefits, such as being able to pull a plow, carry loads, or provide milk and wool.

- Hindu taboos against consuming cows can also be partly explained by environmental reasons. Cows are the source of oxen, the traditional choice for pulling plows as well as carts.

In Hinduism, the holy cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full earthly life.

Halal Food Restrictions as an example of food taboos (external link)

Kashrut and Kosher Food Restrictions as an example of food taboos (external link)

PBS Site on Food Taboos (external link)

Popular Food Customs

-Consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages and snack foods are characteristic of the food customs of popular societies.

-Southerners may prefer pork rinds because more hogs are raised there, and northerners may prefer popcorn and potato chips because more corn and potatoes are grown there.

-Cultural backgrounds also affect the amount and types of alcohol and snack foods consumed.

-Baptists and Mormons drink less than do adherents of other denominations. Because Baptists are concentrated in the Southeast and Mormons in Utah, these regions have relatively low consumption rates. Nevada has a high rate because of the heavy concentration of gambling and other resort activities there.

-Consumption of alcohol and snack foods is part of popular culture primarily dependent on two factors: high income and national advertising.

-The spatial distribution of wine production demonstrates that the environment plays a role in the distribution of popular as well as folk food customs.

-Vineyards are best cultivated in temperate climates of moderately cold, rainy winters and fairly long, hot summers.

-A site near a lake or river is desirable because water can temper extremes of temperature.

-Grapes can be grown in a variety of soils, but the best wine tends to be produced from grapes grown in soil that is coarse and well drained-a soil not necessarily fertile for other crops.

-The distinctive character of each region’s wine is especially influenced by the unique combination of trace elements, such as boron, manganese, and zinc, in the rock or soil.

-Because of the unique product created by these distinctive soil and climate characteristics, the world’s finest wines are most frequently identified by their place of origin.

-Wine production is discouraged in regions of the world dominated by religions other than Christianity. Hindus and Muslims in particular avoid alcoholic beverages. Thus wine production is limited in the Middle East and southern Asia primarily because of cultural values, especially religion.