The unique culture represented by food

The idea that “Nations themselves are typically associated with particular foods” (P123) may be familiar to us. We can make good connections between certain food and certain nations: wine with France, tea with British, whiskey with Scotland and so on. And which food can we actually connect to America? Many of you may have different answers, but Coca-cola must be one of them. As to me, Coca-cola, as is the same with hamburger and French fries, can just remind me of America but cannot reflect a certain value or concept of America. However, in Mark Weiner’s writing, he shows the unique culture of America that Coca-cola reveals in a much detailed and deep way.

After the experience of WWII, Coca-cola has been treated not simply as a drink but also “the totem drink of American nation” (P139). It reveals two vital characteristics of American society: consumer society and participatory democracy. With the help of the government, Coca-cola succeeded in providing a sufficient supply to the soldiers who were away from home to fight against the enemies during the WWII. Surrounded by a sense of homesickness and shortage of material, the soldiers on solitude were reminded of “actual moments of their experience as civilians” (P133) by this kind of soft drink. In the soldiers’ letters, we can know that “Coca-cola did play a role in American civic consciousness” (P135). Coca-cola not only provided the inner satisfaction of individuals to these soldiers, but also associated the drink with communal life by its fantastic advertisements. Thus it can reflect the culture of America from both personal perspective and social perspective. The focus on individual consumption conceals the characteristic of consumer society, while the “shared ‘language of consumption’” (P136) is good for the citizens to bond together and construct participatory political power. Though there are many scholars who believe consumer society brings harm to democracy of the whole society, I think consumer goods such as Coca-cola can strengthen the democratic politics because the shared value and meaning are widespread through the history and regions.

Furthermore, I want to share my own opinions about the unique culture represented by food in China. There exist big differences of food taste between different regions of China. As the figure showed below, food in area ① is much more spicy and hot than any other areas in China. In contrast, food in area ② has a plain and sweet flavor and more complicated making process.


The differences of food between different regions are quite the consequences of different culture. In turn, the food containing cultural meaning can influence the personality of the people living there. People in area ① usually have explosive personality. Many of them enjoy straightforward conversations, unlimited and adventurous lifestyle. So the spicy taste of food can bring them excited and cheerful feeling, making them feel that life is not so plain just like the food. People in area ② share soft, quite and gentle temper in general. They are quite strict with details so many of the famous dishes there have not only good taste but also beautiful look. In conformity with their personality, they prefer bland and flat taste companied by a little sweet.

These areas are just two typical examples of Chinese cuisine and other areas in China also hold their own characteristics combined with their culture. Together, they make up the variety of Chinese food culture which implies the diversity of Chinese culture and multi-ethnic tradition.


Discussion questions:

  1. Do you agree with the idea that “consumer society conceals the antidemocratic relations of economic power on which it is based, and encourages an ethnic of individual self-focus incompatible with republican ideals of virtue and community” (P136)?
  2. Can you share some other food that can represent a certain characteristic of nations or regions?



About Holly

GSP student at UC Davis
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11 Responses to The unique culture represented by food

  1. rmkwakazono says:

    I agree with your ideas that consuming something makes us aware that we have same values and, it also strength our relations in the society. Actually, before reading this article, I didn’t know how Coca Cola has become so popular in the U.S and all over the world. I mean the history of Coca Cola. Thus, after reading “Food in the USA”, it became clear to me that Coca Cola engaged in the War and people during the war, and it brought American citizens patriotism and made their bonds together.
    Also, I quite enjoyed your reading about the differences of food taste in your home country, showing their own identities through the food. Actually, Japan also has unique tastes of food in each area. For example, in Kanto area which is vicinity of Tokyo( surrounding prefectures of Tokyo) , they prefer rich taste food. On the other hand, in Kansai area which is vicinity of Kyoto( surrounding prefectures of Kyoto), they prefer mild and plain taste food. Moreover, there is a difference between those areas. In Kanto, people stand in left side on the escalators, but in Kansai area, people stand in right side. The difference is related to the history, Samurai era. Even in the same country, there are many differences to showing their identities and histories of the areas, which is quite interested to know that!

  2. jpnchudo says:

    As additional information to Rumiko’s comment, this different taste for food between people in Kanto area who like saltier and food and those in Kansai area who like milder food represent cultural difference between these two areas. There have been many merchants through the ages in Kansai are, which was famous as a center area for commerce. However, in contrast, there have been a lot of manual laborers such as architects in Kanto area since Edo era, because before the Edo ear, Kanto area was undeveloped and there were few people who lived in Kanto area. So, many manual laborers came to and worked in this area. They sweated a lot while they are working and, as a result, they had to eat something that contains sault. Naturally, they got to like salty and spicy food better than those in Kansai do. So, these kinds of cultural backgrounds like this had a great influence on their different taste for food.

    I totally agree with your idea that a unique culture is represented by its food. It was interesting that the difference of food taste between ① are and ② are is related to their personality. I got interested in figuring out whether there is a different taste for food between people in east coast and those in western coast and relationship between their differences of food taste and their personality.

  3. cdowens says:

    There’s definitely different kinds of food and styles of home cooking in different parts of the US. These differences are often traceable to the history of immigration and slavery. For example, the US South is known for collard greens and yams. The English word “yam” actually has African origins ( and African slaves in the South brought with them their own ways of cooking greens and these preparation styles have been passed down through the generations (

    It’s important to think about these kinds of food differences historically. I’m always wary / doubtful when we try to attribute personality differences to food though — this can easily slip into stereotyping whole groups of people. Rule of thumb: historicize, don’t generalize.

  4. cdowens says:

    While I don’t know as much about these places, I’ve heard that the Midwest (especially Minnesota) is especially well known for “hotdish” (, which is associated with the history of Scandinavian and Lutheran immigration to that area. Also, there’s Cajun food in Louisiana ( It would be interesting to know more about the histories of these foods too.

  5. Lydia says:

    Your writing and replies were very interesting. I also didn’t know how Coca-Cola became a representative of America, and I think the process of Coca-Cola being one of the representatives of America is very interesting. And I found it – people can ‘make’ something as a representative of some area with some strategies if they want. Therefore, Coca-Cola could be a kind of successful result of good marketing, I think.
    I found it very interesting that many countries have regional difference in food. And I want to add something about cultural/regional difference in Korean food, too. In Korea, foods are saltier in southern region than in northern region. I learned that it is related with the regional weather. In northern regions, the summer is short and the winter is long, and foods are mild and less salted. However, in southern regions, foods are spicier and more salted. It’s because the weather is hot, and foods spoil easily. To prevent foods from rotting, people put more salt because it helps food preserved. And, as all of you said, a difference in food also connected to people’s tempers in each area. I think Chinese and Japanese cases are also related to the weather, and I feel like it’s little different with the case of Coca-Cola. It’s more historical thing, as Christina said.

  6. Gabrielle says:

    When I first came to the USA, the ESL class’s teacher asked the students:” when talking about America, what’s the first thing you think about?” Most students answer is Coca-Cola and hamburgers.Yes, the coca-cola and the fast food seem to become the symbol of America. It stands a food culture, even a life and humanity culture. The life rhythm in America is so fast, for seeking a more convenience lifestyle, people invented the fast food. It is no doubt that the fast food bring more convenience during American people’s daily life and work, but it also bring a problem: obesity.However, we cannot deny the advantages the coca-cola and fast food bring us.When we are very hungry or our works are very busy, we don’t need to wait. To some extent, the fast food save much time and promote the efficiency of our work. As the time goes, the fast food has become the symbol of American daily life. When you’re hungry, you first think of hamburger; when you’re thirsty, you first think of a cup of coca-cola. That has become a habit of American people.
    Also, I am very agree with your idea about the food habit is related to the personalities of one region people. In China, the region 1 people like to eat hot taste food, and the people in this region’s personalities are all straightforward. At the same time I am very agree with Lydia, the weather is also a very important reason. The weather in region 1 is always damp and cloudy, so people need to eat some hot food to keep warm.
    Also, I think the food habits is also related to the regional diversity. For example, the people live by the sea side like to eat sea food, and also they’re good at cooking sea food.

  7. danbi13 says:

    Your reading response is really interesting. I strongly agree with the opinion that foods represent the nation’s culture. Foods also reflect one nation’s consumer tendency and the shared value of one’s history and regions. In my country, Korea, there are also interesting characteristics of foods depending on the regions. Kimchi, our traditional Korean food has different flavor according to each region. In south part of Korea, people make Kimchi saltier and spicier because of its hot weather; on the other hand, people in north part of Korea make a bit bland Kimchi. It is interesting that we have different food culture like this even in the small country. From this point, America could be seen it had more various food cultures than any other countries. However, what is American food? One day, my English teacher asked students this question. Nobody could answer at first. We thought again, but we could not find any special food that has unique characteristics of America. The answer was maybe hamburgers and Coca-Cola. In America, too many cultures exist together, so we cannot define what is most like America. Foods prove it. There are fast foods like hamburgers and fried potatoes, Mexican foods, Italian foods, other European foods and Asian foods. I still don’t know what American food is, but it is clear that America has diversity of food and culture.

  8. These types of readings really make the reader realize and think about what culture really is. Since I live and have grown up in America I alway saw it as a diverse and mixed culture. To me it doesn’t seem like a lot of things are truly “American.” To me, being American is accepting a lot of different cultures.
    I will agree that his article changed my viewpoint on Coca-Cola because I didn’t really see it as iconic. It is not just the product itself but the timing and use of the product originally. America is an extreme consumer culture, we always want more, bigger, and better. Coca-cola is great as advertising and constantly evolving to meet the consumers needs. I wouldn’t say that it is representative and symbolizes out culture though. Thats the greatest part about America, it is difficult to characterize and places its own meanings to all types of people. America might be one thing and a completely different thing to two people.
    I agree that each culture has a uniqueness about it; people, food, and clothing, help define a culture. I would say that our unique ness is simply being unique and that is why America is the “land of the free and home of the brave.”

  9. soolim says:

    I did not know how Coca-Cola could become the national symbol not only to people of other countries but also those of America. It is very interesting that Coca-Cola has been developed by the victory of their advertisements strategy. Moreover, the difference of the food depending on its culture in China is the fresh approach.
    I think it is good thing Coca-Cola is regarded as a national symbol to people, especially domestic people. They remind their home and their culture by drink Coca-Cola, and which connects with each other as they are one. Although it is positive for brining participation and affection of America, I am not sure that it is not good for their democracy. This is because that democracy is not sharing the same value but accepting a minority or diversity of opinions

  10. kekoh2013 says:

    I definitely agree with the idea that foods stand for the culture of nations. In South Korea, there are many foods which represent our country. For example, Bibimbap is typical food of Korea. The word literally means “mixed meal.” It is served with a bowl of cooked white rice, topped with namul, various vegetables and gochujang. An egg and sliced meats are common additions. The materials are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. Also, as Bibimbap contains a variety of ingredients, it is very healthy and nutritious Korean food. And this dish is first mentioned in the Siuijeonseo, an anonymous cookbook from the late 19th century. There its name is called as bubuimbap. In Korea, Jeonju is especially famous for their bibimbap.
    Though Bibimbap is mixed with whatever you like among a variety of side dishes, it is very delicious. The rice is not dented between the side dish makings and keeps its own independent figure. Korea selectively accepted foreign culture. So, our country adopted imported culture with suiting our taste and keeping objective eyes. And Bibimbap represents our traditional value such as ‘harmony’, ‘balance’ and ‘beseemingness’. This is what I want to show Korean culture through Bibimbap.

  11. qfeng2013 says:

    Actually the first thing came to my mind was fast food when our professor asked our image about United States. United States is a country views time more important than anything else, and they do not have lunch time, and almost all staffers have their lunch on their office desk, so there is no wonder that fast food is they best choice for lunch. United States is also a new country, they don’t have food making history, and the most food they eat is fast food. So in my mind, fast food is the symbol of United Stated. Also in one of my classes I have taken here, we talked about obesity in United Stated. WE watched a movie, which call “super size me”, it showed us the fast food industry in United Stated, and I found fast food was so popular in United Stated. In China, we also eat fast food, but not so much. We view fast food not fast food, because we go to eat fast food when we hang out with our friends.
    But I can also accept Coca Cola as a symbol of United Stated. One thing impressed me most is Coca Cola is consumed by the whole citizens in United Stated. The presidents drink Coca Cola, the professors drink Coca Cola, even the beggars drink Coca Cola. And all the Coca Cola are the same. This can reflect that United Stated is a democratic country. Maybe China should learn from United States in this aspect.

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