Food, A Way of Life

Apr 26 , 2019
By Tsion Fisseha

There is a fun fact about human beings being born craving sugar. Indeed, we grow up devouring sweets with great relish. It is somewhat surprising to go to school and learn that food is basically for sustenance, one of the necessities of life, such as shelter and clothing.

In its technical definition, food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism. And as important as nutritional support is, food signifies a value more than just that.

Food was and is a fundamental part of human evolution. It is a form of survival turned into an expression of identity, community, values, status, power, artistry and creativity across the globe. It is a representation of the aspects of everyday life. In China, for instance, food imitates the cultural aspect of harmony by allowing salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter flavours to harmonize and create wonderful cuisines.

When it comes to culture the implication not only comes from the substance but also the way the food is being eaten and the way utensils are placed. In some instances, culture also goes deep into how people that are feasting are seated, each scenario bringing about its own definition.

In Ethiopia, food represents different dynamics that also help to measure the economic and income gap between those who are poor and those who are wealthy, a demarcation of those who eat for pleasure and those who eat to survive. Ethiopia also has indigenous norms that are not seen in almost any other part of the world such as gursha, an Amharic word that means to eat out of someone else’s hand. This is done to show love and respect toward one another.

Food is especially of utmost interest during the holidays. In Ethiopia, the holidays usually represent the end of the fasting season, as is the case with Easter. This is followed by food that contains animal products to commemorate the day. On this day, traditionally stewed chicken is served, as well as a slew of cuisines that are responsible for the slaughter of countless sheep and cattle. From the prepared meal, parts of the chicken are eaten by different members of the family. It is a sign of respect.

Food is what is almost always suggested when going out on a date, and it is what many turn to when the date does not go as planned. Mental health can also be measured by the way one consumes food. The amount of intake signifies how mentally healthy one is, betraying whether or not one is depressed, anxious or stressed.

Food also has significant implications for religion, where it is usually used to show temptation. This only goes to show how food affects every cycle of life.

Food can also go as far as being a topic for discussion attached to personal beliefs. These are for instance vegetarians and meat eaters who argue about the consumption and slaughter of animals with respect to violence against living things.

Food serves as a gift for a friend, for the less privileged, for the ill, and for oneself. It used as a measurement of strength in old age, as well as the reason behind wars, racial discrimination and feuds. Food surpasses nutritional content. It is a way of life.

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go,” as the late Anthony Bourdain, a chef and author, once put it.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 26,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 991]

Tsion Fisseha is a writer and head of foreign languages in the news department at a local TV station. She has been a part of a pan African poetry slam competition representing Ethiopia and is a member of a rock band entitled the Green Manalishi. She can be reached at

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