The symbolic value of food

All over the world, life’s most important moments are accompanied by foods with special meanings. But why do we eat what we eat?

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In Naples, capitone is the staple of Christmas tradition. The reason for this is shrouded in mystery. One of the most valid explanations is that the eel in capitone is reminiscent of the biblical serpent, which in turn is a reference to evil, and is defeated by cutting off its head prior to cooking.

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Many foods around the world have a symbolic value: the sweetness of milk and honey, typically consumed at Jewish New Year, is an omen for a good year ahead. Lentils served with cotechino during the Italian New Year dinner are meant to bring wealth. Pulses have always been associated with money, as they remind people of coins. Not to mention the turkey enjoyed on Thanksgiving (also called ‘Turkey Day’) – the American bird par excellence for a very American festivity.

Even though we have forgotten the symbolic meaning behind many food traditions, rediscovering them helps us remember that food is much more than a source of calories –  it’s a language in itself, and an endless source of meaning.

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