Reading: / Matching Sentence Endings / Part 6

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-6 which are based on Reading Passage below.


To an extent, agriculture dictates that every country should have a set of specific foods which are native to that country. They may even be unique. However, even allowing for the power of agricultural science, advances in food distribution and changes in food economics to alter the ethnocentric properties of food, it is still possible for a country 'to be famous for' a particular food even if it is widely available elsewhere.

The degree to which cuisine is embedded in national culture

Within the sociology of food literature two themes suggest that food is linked to social culture. The first relates food and eating to social relationships, (Finkelstein, Vissor, Wood), and the second establishes food as a reflection of the distribution of power within social structures, (Mennell). However, establishing a role for food in personal relationships and social structures is not a sufficient argument to place food at the centre of national culture. To do that it is necessary to prove a degree of embeddedness. It would be appropriate at this point to consider the nature of culture.

The distinction made by Pierce between a behavioural contingency and a cultural contingency is crucial to our understanding of culture. Whilst a piece of behaviour may take place very often, involve a network of people and be reproducible by other networks who do not know each other, the meaning of the behaviour does not go beyond the activity itself. A cultural practice, however, contains and represents 'meta-contingencies' that is, behavioural practices that have a social meaning greater than the activity itself and which, by their nature reinforce the culture which houses them. Celebrating birthdays is a cultural practice not because everybody does it but because it has a religious meaning. Contrast this with the practice in Britain of celebrating 'Guy Fawkes Night'. It is essentially an excuse for a good time but if fireworks were banned, the occasion would gradually die away altogether or end up as cult to California. A smaller scale example might be more useful. In the British context, compare drinking in pubs with eating 'fish and chips'. Both are common practices, yet the former reflects something of the social fabric of the country, particularly family, gender, class and age relationships whilst the latter is just a national habit. In other words, a constant, well populated pattern of behaviour is not necessarily cultural. However, it is also clear that a cultural practice needs behavioural reinforcement. Social culture is not immortal.

Finkelstein argues that 'dining out' is simply 'action which supports a surface life'. For him it is the word 'out' that disconnects food from culture. This view of culture and food places the 'home' as the cultural centre. Continental European eating habits may contradict this notion by their general acceptance of eating out as part of family life. Following the principle that culture needs behavioural reinforcement, if everyone 'eats' out' on a regular basis, irrespective of social and economic differentiation, then this might constitute behavioural support for cuisine being part of social culture. That aside, the significance of a behavioural practice being embedded in culture is that it naturally maintains an approved and accepted way of life and therefore has a tendency to resist change.

The thrust of the argument is that countries differ in the degree to which their food and eating habits have a social and cultural meaning beyond the behaviour itself. This argument, however, could be interpreted to imply that the country with the greatest proportion of meals taken outside the home would be the one in which the national cuisine is more embedded in social culture. This is a difficult position to maintain because it would bring America, with its fast-food culture to the fore. The fast-food culture of America raises the issue of whether there are qualitative criteria for the concept of cuisine. The key issue is not the extent of the common behaviour but whether or not it has a function in maintaining social cohesion and is appreciated and valued through social norms. French cuisine and 'going down the pub' are strange bedfellows but bedfellows nevertheless.

How homogenous is national cuisine?

Like language, cuisine is not a static entity and whilst it’s fundamental character is unlikely to change in the short run it may evolve in different directions. Just as in a language there are dialects so in a cuisine there are variations. The two principal sources of diversity are the physical geography of the country and its social diversity.

The geographical dimensions work through agriculture to particularise and to limit locally produced ingredients. Ethnic diversity in the population works through the role of cuisine in social identity to create ethnically distinct cuisines which may not converge into a national cuisine. This raises the question of how far a national cuisine is related to national borders. To an ethnic group their cuisine is national. The greater the division of a society into classes, castes and status groups with their attendant ethnocentric properties, of which cuisine is a part, then the greater will be the diversity of the cuisines.

However, there is a case for convergence. Both these principal sources of diversity are, to an extent, influenced by the strength of their boundaries and the willingness of society to erode them. It is a question of isolation and integration. Efficient transport and the application of chemistry can alter agricultural boundaries to make a wider range of foods available to a cuisine. Similarly, political and social integration can erode ethnic boundaries However, all these arguments mean nothing if the cuisine is not embedded in social culture. Riley argues that when a cuisine is not embedded in social culture it is susceptible to novelty and invasion by other cuisines.

Questions 1-6

Choose one phrase (A-K) from the List of phrases to complete each Key point below.  Write the appropriate letters (A-K) in Boxes 1-6 on your answer sheet.

The information in the completed sentences should be an accurate summary of the points made by the writer.

NB. There are more phrases (A-K) than sentences, so you will not need to use them all. You may use each phrase once only.


1.  The native foods of a country ,……………….

2. The ethnocentric properties of food .......................

3.  Celebrating birthdays ........................

4.  Cultural practice ………………….

5.  Drinking in pubs in Britain ………………..

6.  The link between language and cuisine ………………….


A.  is a behavioural practice, not a cultural practice

B.  are unique

C.  varies

D.  is that both are diverse

E.  is a reflection of the social fabric

F.   is a cultural practice

G.  can be changed by economic and distribution factors
H.  is fundamental

I.   are not as common as behaviour

J.   needs to be reinforced by behaviour

K. are, to a certain extent, dictated by agriculture