Adventures in Eating: Anthropological Experiences in Dining From Around the World
Chapter 2: Boiled Eggs with Chicks Inside, or What Commensality Means by Roger Ivar Lohmann
Commensality, the act of eating together, is a powerful operator of social connections. Lohmann, an anthropologist studying in New Guinea and author of this chapter, shares his story of engaging in the local cuisine and culture. Despite his initial apprehensiveness, Lohmann boiled a wild egg with a living chick inside and ate it. Later in his stay, Lohmann hatched one of those wild eggs and kept it as a pet for his children.
Giddens would classify this as a disembedded mechanism. Lohmann, the anthropologist, in this case, was “lifted” from his natural environment (the US) and placed in the heart of New Guinea. This action alone will inevitably result in cultural shocks, specifically in cuisine. The dish of discussion right now is the egg. Eggs are consumed all over the world, however, in various manners. In the US, we eat pasteurized eggs whereas in places like New Guinea, they eat wild eggs with chicks growing inside. This method gives a new meaning to what we know as “steak and eggs”. To support the idea of eating an egg with a chick inside, Lohmann compared it to the steak and eggs that we consume in the US. This is an example of embedding one culture into another culture. Lohmann does this again when he hatches one of the chicks and keeps it as a pet in his home.
When thinking about food and globalization, the most common idea is the adoption of imported goods. However, we often fail to think about the import of people into new environments, experiencing disembedded mechanisms. Lohmann demonstrates a sort of tug-of-war between two cultures, his own and that of New Guinea. Lohmann manipulated this wild egg in two ways. One way was to boil it and eat it with the chick inside, as the New Guinean people. The other way was to adopt the chick inside this egg as a pet, which is a common American idea. Americans turn snakes, rats, and even pigs into pets. It was American nature that inclined Lohmann to hatch this chick and turn it into a pet for his children. Evidently, the people of New Guinea did not approve of this because they see the chick serving one purpose; to be eaten.
The two uses of the egg described above represent the relationship between two cultures. To deepen this relationship, it was represented as a disembedded mechanism, a first hand experience of a combination of two cultures in one situation. Essentially, cultures can be transferred, adopted, and altered. To transfer a food “word for word” would be to disembed it. To adopt a food, would be to honor it as a consumable item and then make it your own, according to the given culture, or in other words, alter it.