Levi-Strauss: raw & cooked

An account of Levi-Strauss' binary from a course webpage on Boccaccio (of all things)

In anthropological terms the concept of "the raw" verses "the cooked" has long been associated with the dichotomy between the natural world and the world of human culture. In a broad-based empirical study of native mythologies, Claude Lévi-Strauss proposes a structural and thematic link between the opposition of the raw and the cooked in mythological thought and man's attempt to establish a balanced relationship between natural and cultural forces.

Lévi-Strauss postulates that the raw/cooked axis is characteristic of all human culture, with elements falling along the "raw" side of the axis being those of "natural" origin, and those on the "cooked" side being of "cultural" origin - i.e. products of human creation. Symbolically, cooking marks the transition from nature to culture, by means of which the human state can be defined in accordance with all its attributes. In mythological thought, the cooking of food is, in effect, a form of mediation between nature and society, between life and death, and between heaven and earth. The cook, in turn, can be viewed as a cultural agent whose function is to "mediate the conjunction of the raw product and the human consumer," the operation of which has the effect of "making sure the natural is at once cooked and socialized."


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