Essay Example - Ethnographic Food Research: New Jersey

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Vanderbilt University
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One of the common visible signs of any culture is food. In the current world, any person can easily name various dishes from around the world that could be indicative of a particular culture. For example, Italian is known for the pasta dishes, Japanese are known for the sushi and Greece is well known for the baklava. In light of this, the concept of food not only defines what is being taken as a meal but it is also a form of the social group in given culture (Crowther, 2013).

Culture and society have a way of influencing and shaping an individuals diet. American food, for instance, is considered to be reflective of its culture thus forming in particular that American diet. However, in New Jersey where apparently cheap is seen as safe and fast is better, many people have welcomed the idea of super-sized and the concept of low-cost, fast food in the region.

Research Questions

This study seeks to investigate more on the effect of culture on a diet. It will highlight the methodologies that were used in examining the food culture in the region. The research shall have a look at the patterns of eating, timing, meal times, expected behavior during eating and even the dishes and serving procedures among the Indian society in New Jersey.

Indian Food Culture in New Jersey

New Jersey is one of the places with a huge population of the Indian population in the United States. Most of the businesses such as restaurants, travel agencies, wholesale and retail stores, beauty parlors among several others are mainly owned by Indian. All these traits indicate that New Jersey is just like some typical Indian societies, even outside the United States. But of more interest is the Indian food sold in the most restaurant, and a close monitoring will indicate that these communities have a rigorous food culture in New Jersey.

Indians are known to consume a wide variety of foods and do so at least three times a day (Francis, 2012). They range from herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits. Availability of these foods, based on some variations such as the type of soil, proximity to the sea and such other factors, Indians may consume them differently, but do consume the vast foods available within the community. Some of these foods are heavily influenced by the Indian traditions, religious beliefs, and cultural choices. For instance, Indian value and honor cows tremendously, and for that reason, most of them do not consume beef. That is reflected in the community in New Jersey, which does not have restaurants that sell prepared meat.

Indians prefer a heavy and healthy breakfast, and lunch is occasionally served late into the day (Francis, 2012). They often prefer tea or coffee accompanied by other traditional food for breakfast. The Indian community is one of the few in the world that gives a lot of essence on how they serve foods. Based on their broad variety of cuisine that is served concurrently, a single table is likely to be filled with several small plates and spoons. It is also part of their culture to serve in shiny spackling utensils. They are not discriminative in sharing meals; families can sit together and eat with their loved ones. Similarly, they can consume food in public restaurants and cafes and even share with friends. That is the beauty of the Indian food culture. However, in the proceeding case, we review the exact culture within New Jersey and see whether these cultures synonymous with Indians mainly their home country are also replicated in New Jersey.

Research Methodology

For purposes of these study, several methods must be employed to ascertain some cultures in Indian food culture. Among the most efficient methodology, based on efficiency and reliability is collecting data through observations and interviews.


While studying culture, observation is one of the most efficient methods to collect primary data. That includes appearing in food joints in person with preferably a notebook to note down, among other things the dietary, the frequency of eating, the style of serving, the ingredient, how they share meals and so many other observable things. It is efficient to deploy more researcher, for each to return with his or her findings for comparison.

In the foresaid study, over twenty individuals were used across New Jersey to collect data on Indian food culture and present the notes back for analysis and reporting. Since the focus was on Indian food culture, the restaurants frequented by members of the community were the target, and by close of the study, we were hopeful we could have covered over 40 restaurants and food joints in Jersey. The process is time-consuming, since some observations like meal times, eating habits need more than a single observation to conclude it as part of the culture. It was, therefore, an exercise that was aimed to consume a considerable period.


Interviewing, as a methodology of the research is a more rigorous process that not only gives precise and reliable information but also clarifies on observations. It is thus essential that one engages in vast observations, or extensively reads literature related to the culture before embarking on an interview. In this particular study, researchers interviewed over twenty individuals, who ranged from restaurant managers to customers of Indian descent. The questions, most of them seeking clarification about the food culture in Indian community was in no way confidential, and occasionally even more than one person would be allowed to provide a point into a question asked concurrently. The interview concentrated on asking about the meal times, the kind of foods they consume and at what time, how do they share meals, what restriction do they have on various foods among others.

Results and Explanation

In all observations submitted in by various researchers, none had observed beef, onions or garlic in the different meals they witnessed people consume. A clarification on that through an interview revealed that Indians hold cows in high regard, and value so much what they (cows) give to humanity. As a sign of honor, they dont consume beef. Most do not eat onions and garlic, and in cases where they do, they are served separately. The reason is that they are advised against doing so by the Holy Scripture. The above exemplifies a society whose food is profoundly influenced by religion.

It was observed that Indians value large and healthy breakfast consisting of tea or coffee, snacks and a wide variety of other traditional accompaniments like legumes, vegetables, fruits, honey, whole grains among others. Unlike the American community where it is easy to note down the available variety for breakfast, in Indian culture, they are so many, and each chooses what to take. In almost all restaurants, lunch is mainly plate of rice, which an interview also confirmed is among the staple food among the Indian community. It may also include such other foods like whole wheat rotis served with several other accompaniments. An interesting aspect though is that either of the main meal is served by several dishes of vegetables and fruits, some considered essential not just for dietary needs but also for digestion purposes.

Lastly, Indians take some meal just before supper, often termed as evening breakfast.' It consists of tea and some snacks, a period which they utilize to bond with family and friends. Supper includes whole grains, rice, and other cuisines as main meals. Indians also value eating together, and most of the time the family sits together to have the last meal of the day before they sleep.


From the interviews and observation, it is clear that shared values of any cultural group tend to be the type of food they consume (Crowther, 2014). For instance, the Indian food culture makes the distinct group in New Jersey. Their cuisines are unique, they restrict food which most American indulge in, and their accompaniments are things not so common in other cultures.

Indians take four meals a day, quite different from other cultures that do three most of the time. In short, the Indian food culture in New Jersey is distinct, the large Indian population in the region is making the culture a norm that even others are following. A thorough literature review or even road research may bring more interesting facts, may be on top of those revealed in this study.


Crowther, G. (2013). Eating culture: an anthropological guide to food. University of Toronto Press.

Francis, D. (2012). The imaginary Indian: The image of the Indian in Canadian culture. Arsenal Pulp Press.

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