The Social Life of Food

It didn't take long, in these conversations, for individual preferences and domestic habits and patterns around cooking and eating to be expressed in terms of social and family life.

One of our interviewees, from northern China, told us that her flatmate is from Manchester and has introduced her to British food - including baked beans and mashed potatoes. Our interviewee doesn't enjoy cooking for herself, but with friends and family it's a different matter: "We use food to celebrate at home." At home, both interviewees said their mothers do most of the cooking, and both spoke of their own family traditions with food, and dishes passed from their grandmothers to their mothers, which they have only ever encountered at home. Our other interviewee does enjoy cooking, and while he will routinely cook for himself, again he spoke of the joy of cooking with and for friends and family - in his student accommodation in Liverpool, and at home in Shanghai, where he cooks with his family "just to have fun".

Food, of course, has its own languages - one of our interviewees spoke of the terms used to describe specific cuts of meat, for example, and how these can vary regionally in China. And in the UK, the cuts themselves are different, so to buy them he needs to find specialist butchers. Both interviewees spoke about finding ingredients in Liverpool which are familiar to them from cooking at home, though our interviewee who was keener to cook explained that he tends to carry recipes from home in his head which he has tried to replicate in Liverpool, sometimes with different ingredients. His favourite ingredient of all is eggs: “It’s an ingredient that you can use to cook both western food I learned in Liverpool and the food from my hometown.”

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