Field Report: You Are What You Eat

The Food Log Experience

Even though I thought this field report would be a bit difficult, I actually found it quite easy. Although I did slip up a couple times and forget to write down a meal or two right when I ate it, I was excited about this assignment so it was simple to remember. I was excited because I wanted to know exactly how poorly I was eating. I figured, I’m a college student, I probably just eat whatever I can get my hands on—healthy or not. However, I figured this week’s meals would be even less healthy because I went back to my parents’ house for a few days and there’s always yummy, highly caloric food made there.

However, I was quite impressed with my log. It seemed like the more I thought about this assignment, the better I wanted to eat. Sometimes I thought, hmm, yes, I could eat that Snickers bar, but I’d have to write it in my log. I could have lied to my log—and myself—but I didn’t. How sad is that? I didn’t eat what I wanted to eat just because I had to admit to eating it. Most likely, this food log doesn’t exactly resemble my normal weekly food intake. When I actually had to record what I ate, I was much stricter on what I thought I could and could not eat. This is probably why diets like these don’t work. Freshman year, one of my friends started using My Fitness Pal so she could eat better and maybe lose a “few pounds.” She ended up becoming obsessed with the app. Any food, drink, or snack that entered her mouth, she logged. After a while, though, she stopped because of how much work it took to log everything. Plus, toward the end, she started “lying” to her food log and just ate and drank whatever she wanted without logging it. It may be a good strategy to understand exactly what you eat for a week or two to then figure out how to change your habits, but it’s too difficult to keep up with long-term.

The Log

Something I realized is that I eat out a lot more at my parents’ house than at school. This is probably because I want to save money at school and my parents pay for most things when I’m with them—makes sense. At school, I make easy dinners like stir fry and I buy quinoa bowls on campus from Freshii.

Coffee and iced tea were both very prevalent beverages in my week. I usually had coffee right when I woke up then maybe an iced coffee or an iced tea later in the day. I always make my own unsweetened iced tea when it starts getting warm out. However, because of this I replace my daily water intake with iced tea which means I intake a lot more caffeine and become dehydrated easier.

coffee
tea

No matter what, I always have a breakfast that will fill me up. Usually, when I have some time in the morning, I like to make a couple eggs. When I have a lot of time, I usually add vegetables like spinach, onion, and peppers. I also found this amazing sweet chili sauce from Trader Joe’s that goes great with it. Sometimes, I add a slice of toast.

For a quick substitute, I like to have Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds and almond milk. I recently discovered almond milk and love it! My family always had whole dairy milk growing up and it took a lot for me to convince them to switch to 2 percent. It was mainly my dad and brother who don’t like change. Then when I came to college, I realized I could drink whatever milk I wanted! I know, this sounds like a lame thing to be excited about but I just always heard that dairy milk (especially whole) was so much less healthy than other milk items like coconut and almond milk. I tried coconut milk first and didn’t care for it much. Then I tried almond milk and loved it. I still can’t drink the milk out of a glass like I could 2% dairy milk but I like it on cereal.

I love to try new foods. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I’ve found, though, it’s very easy to find different foods and food combinations right in your hometown. Since my grandmother on my father’s side was born, she’s been going to the annual Oyster and Ham Supper at her family’s Methodist church.  Over 80 years later, the Calvary United Methodist Church hosts this extremely popular supper three to four times a year. Every time we go, we have to wait at least a half hour for a table.

Whenever I tell people about the Oyster and Ham Supper, they usually make a face like that looks like they just smelled a skunk. It doesn't seem like the most appealing food combination in the world, but the church makes it work. They normally bake the ham, but the oysters are a bit different. The way they bread and deep fry the oysters makes them crunchy and yummy. They have ketchup, but we bring our own hot sauce to spice things up. On the side, the church provides string beans, potato salad, and pepper hash. Pepper hash is a South Jersey/Philadelphia favorite. It consists of minced cabbage and green peppers with vinegar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt, and sugar. It actually reminded me exactly of curtido, the El Salvadoran cabbage slaw I had at El Carbonero. The only difference I could tell was that the El Salvadoran slaw had bigger pieces of cabbage, not minced like Philadelphia pepper hash. How interesting that two seemingly different cultures and regions have extremely similar local foods. This meal is definitely not a routine one, but it’s a fun opportunity to see my family.    

 Fried oysters with Frank's Hot Sauce and ketchup, baked ham, pepper hash and potato salad

Fried oysters with Frank's Hot Sauce and ketchup, baked ham, pepper hash and potato salad

One final observation from this experiment is that if someone gave me free food this week, I probably ate it. The first picture is at the Sigma Kappa Cupcake Bar to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. My friend, Elizabeth, bought us cupcakes that we could decorate. Of course I’d eat a cupcake if it's free! The second photo is during a presentation in my Food, Health, and Society class at Elon University about comfort food. As you can see, the presenter brought in some mac n cheese, the go-to comfort food, and I gladly ate it. In the third photo, my friend bought me a grilled cheese and cookie from the Periclean Scholars Midnight Munchies. I figured it’d be a great way to get my energy up during midterms week.

There’s a trend here: all are fatty and high-caloric foods. Most likely, if I had to pay for these foods, I would not buy them. The action of purchasing food gives me a kind of power. It’s the same at the grocery store. If I don’t purchase something, I know I won’t eat it later. However, if someone gives me potato chips, for example, they’re already in my possession so why not eat it? 

Two Main Points

Food very much revolves around family at home. I never eat alone and I always have dinner with my family or friends. My grandmother is very passionate about her church because she’s been going there since she was born. The Oyster and Ham Supper is a tradition that involves family and supporting her church so it is very important to her, which means it’s very important to us as well. This is similar to meals shared with family and culture in Chinese families (Liu and Lin 2009).

I have a relatively healthy diet unless unhealthy food is handed to me. Women generally see food more for nutritional value more than men. This is probably why my friend who used My Fitness Pal and I thought twice before eating unhealthy food. Many times a week I hear women say, “It’s not worth the calories.” I believe this links back to a woman’s desire to look small (Counihan 1988). This “fat stigma” means that being fat is a negative quality (Brewis, et al. 2011).

Food very much tells your story. It describes where you go, what is important to you, and how you relate with others. This food log and analysis allowed me to understand and criticize my meal activities to help identify my culture.

Works Cited

Brewis, A. A., A. Wutich, A. Falletta-Cowden, and I. Rodriguez-Soto. "Body Norms and Fat Stigma In Global Perspective." Current Anthropology 52, no. 2 (2011).

Counihan, C. M. "Female Identity, Food, and Power in Contemporary Florence." Anthropological Quarterly, 1988: 51-62.

Liu, Haiming, and Lianlian Lin. "Food, Culinary Identity, and Transnational Culture." Journal of Asian American Studies 12, no. 2 (2009): 135-162.