Chapter 30

Deciphering a Meal
Mary Douglas

In this chapter, you learn more about the close relationship of ritual and myth—that is, that ritual is at least as strong a means of cultural communication as language. Anthropologist Mary Douglas shows that everyday practices such as eating and drinking can reflect the broader beliefs of a culture. Using the structuralist principles of Claude Levi-Strauss, she analyzes the components and relationships expressed by the simple rituals of mealtime. Douglas starts with a discussion of the meals in her own home, suggesting that the food served must meet certain criteria to be considered a meal. By degrees, she broadens her analysis to a study of the Jewish dietary laws to consider the ways in which they reflect components found in the mythology that attends them.

As you read, recall what you know about the covenant between God and the Israelites from the Biblical creation story (Chapter 5) and the story of the flood (Chapter 13). Consider mealtimes in your own family and community, and compare the weekly and yearly cycle of meals you experience to those described by Douglas.

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