Feasting and Fasting

Michael Dietler

in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199232444
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

Feasting and Fasting


Food and drink have an especially prominent place in ritual and religion because they are ‘embodied material culture’. That is, they are material objects produced specifically to be destroyed by a form of consumption that involves ingestion into the human body. Feasting and fasting are two alternative ways to mobilize the symbolic power of food and drink, through either ritualized commensal consumption or refusal of consumption. Although ethnographic and historical research has shown that both practices are common in societies around the world and throughout history, the archaeological visibility of fasting is far more limited than that of feasting. This undoubtedly explains why the surge of recent interest by archaeologists in feasting has not been accompanied by a similar pursuit of fasting. This article examines the symbolic logic and material basis of both practices through a theoretical discussion based upon comparative ethnographic and historical data.

Keywords: food; drink; feasts; fasts; symbolic logic

Article.  8110 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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