How Food Tells a Story

Every person has a story, written or unwritten, and it is embedded into cultures around the world. One aspect of those stories that remain long after the original individual is gone is food. Through food traditions, beliefs and customs are preserved and passed on in the world.
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Two popular novels turned movies, Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love illustrate the importance of food in telling ones story. In both, the main character finds herself dissatisfied with life and takes a journey through food, one in cooking (Julie and Julia), and the other in a world tour (Eat, Pray, Love). In the end an entirely new layer is revealed, entrench in the food that is so often overlooked.

Food clearly played a hugely significant part in Things Fall Apart. So much of their culture was based on a man’s prosperity, often measured by his yams. This isn’t simply because it fed them, there were in fact many other foods which they grew and ate. But as Okonkwo described it, “His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop” (Achebe, 28), and again, “Yam stood for manliness” (Achebe, 32). An entire festival is tied to the yam (Achebe, 37), showing just how deeply it is cemented into their culture. Even after the white men arrive, the Ibo tribes don’t give up their yams, so although much of there story was being stomped out, that piece still remained and preserved a sliver of what was lost.

Even today the weight of food is evident in our culture. In reality TV show, Wife Swap, two very different mothers are switched, live with a different family, and often attempt to change it to mirror their own. In one such episode, the swapped mother tries to throw away the bacon in a family where such food, along with easy cheese and the like are somewhat of staple. While it is clear from their faces, no one in the family is particularly happy about it, but the little boy is particularly offended, and even attempts to run away until his mother returns (Bacon is good for me). And though it is funny, and even a little ridiculous sounding, bacon has become a standard part of his lifestyle, and to have someone suddenly appear and throw it away was extremely upsetting to him, much like Okonkwo’s own dismay towards the appearance of the missionaries who proceeded to alter his entire lifestyle.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook, written in 1951, places an introduction for each type of food. This is the introduction for pies:

"What's the American man's favorite dessert? Most people would agree- it's pie. And heading the list is apple pie. Followed closely by cherry pie and peach pie and lemon meringue and a lot of others. If you care about pleasing a man- bake a pie. But make sure it's a perfect pie. How? Simple. Spend a little time with this chapter; pick up our sure-fire tips for flaky pastry. Then try one of our recipes-family-tested and guaranteed to satisfy. What more could you ask for?"

The fifties were considered to be a period of misogynistic men and robotic wives, willing to do anything that would keep their vision of the perfect white pickett fence and family intact. Food was a way to fill the duties of a woman and though it was a way to impress her family and others, it was considered unacceptable to do otherwise. Back then, the sign of a good wife was to do what the husband told her to do and not ask questions. The man was the power and the woman was the cookers. Food is the buffer. Food was the artificial love between the both of them. In the Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo and his wife Efwieki live a similar life. The mealtime is their only time conversing or spending time together. When the food wasn't to Okonkwo's liking, he expressed his anger through abuse. Bad food connotates a bad wife. This idea is still around and the cultural disaproval of woman because of food influences the career choices of women.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 1st ed. Columbus, OH: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 1959. 28, 32, 37. Print.

Crocker, Betty. Betty Crocker's Cookbook. Minneapolis: Western Publishing Company, 1959. Print.

“eatpraylove.” Web. 12 Dec 2010.<>
“Julie and Julia.” Web. 12 Dec 2010 <>

Wife Swap. "Bacon is Good for Me." YouTube//. N.p. N.d. Web. 2 Dec 2010.< >

*Dear Mrs.Bear, we have no idea where this picture of the man with the giant yams came from, it strangely appeared on our page and neither of us added it, but it was so nice I decided to keep it