There's no taste like home: the food of empire

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Wessell, A 2004, 'There's no taste like home: the food of empire', in K Darian-Smith, P Grimshaw, K Lindsey & S McIntyre (eds), Exploring the British world: identity, cultural production, institutions, Melbourne, Vic., RMIT Publishing, Melbourne, Vic. ISBN: 0864593449

Peer Reviewed



Joseph Banks described the homesickness of sailors' aboard the Endeavour by saying that they suffered from a ‘roast beef mentality’. The food metaphor was well chosen and the condition enduring. If we are what we eat, Australians, at least until very recently, were thoroughly British. Food preferences are not incidental to the formation of identity, merely reflecting the location of a cultural effect; food is a crucial element in defining historical identity. It plays a distinctive role in everyday life and a central part in economic, social, political, cultural matters. Eating is the primary way in which we initiate and maintain human relationships. The food consumed in the Australian colonies, which is the primary focus of this paper, was not simply the residue of old food habits, or traces of colonial history, but a device to reaffirm cultural and historical bonds and sustain a shared sense of British identity. As Peter Farb and George Armelagos maintain in their work on the anthropology of eating: Eating is symbolically associated with the most deeply felt human experiences, and thus expresses things that are sometimes difficult to articulate in everyday language.

Additional information

British World Conference III, 2-4 July 2004, University of Melbourne, Australia.