Culture on a Plate: The Social Construction of Authenticity in Food Culture

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Virginia Tech


This study uses three case studies to show how authenticity is fabricated in food culture. Conceptualizing food as a cultural product makes possible the analysis of social processes through food. In doing so, food becomes a mirror reflecting the happenings within the broader social world. This study examines three empirical cases to sociologically understand food culture: southern barbeque, Top Chef, and ramps and quinoa. Southern barbeque allows the examination of the role of fabricated authenticity within food culture. Top Chef is evidence of how chefs actively produce distinction to legitimate their position and status within the field. Ramps and quinoa are examples of two ingredients that have been exploited from their original context to become elite and mainstream ingredients without concern for the consequences to the people who relied on them in the quest for the exotic. Together these cases provide examples of how research on the fabrication of authenticity and impression management can be expanded to include food.



food culture, authenticity, globalization, distinction, impression management