Food as a Source and Target of Metaphors: Inclusion and Exclusion of Foodstuffs and Persons through Metaphors

M.J.J.A.A. Korthals

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Food is an engine and source of metaphorical meanings that permeates our life. Apples can incorporate references of sin or toxin or simple land life, and tomatoes, blood and love. Fast food symbolically represents for many items of the American Dream. Olives are seen as signs of peace. However, foodstuffs are not only the source, but also the target of metaphorical meanings, contrary to the central dogma of Lakoff and Johnson that there is only a one-way traffic from target to source. In daily life, we use an elaborate system of implicit metaphorical references in tasting food: a glass of Bordeaux wine tastes like berries, in oysters some taste a kiss and others snot. In this essay, four different types of life- and food-styles on the basis of the work of Mary Douglas are distinguished: hierarchy (traditional, authentic, natural food); enclave (elitist, high-culture food); competitive individualist (fast food); and eclectic individualist (i.e., slow food). It is argued that in particularly the second and fourth individualizing food-styles synesthetic metaphors play a larger role than in the others. This implies that Douglas's contention that the metaphors are not based on material reference but on social categories alone cannot be upheld. Moreover, I show on the basis of qualitative research that there is intensive border crossing between the four types of lifestyles which is also contrary to Douglas's theory; these four styles allow for ambivalence and ambiguities and are not strictly separated from one another. Finally, the metaphors used in framing foodstuffs and nonfood things like persons convey respect and discrimination as well. Because metaphors function in the distribution of respect and nonrespect, they have an inherent ethical component.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)77-92
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Food as a Source and Target of Metaphors: Inclusion and Exclusion of Foodstuffs and Persons through Metaphors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this