Food Semiology in Selected Poems in ‘Lere Oladitan's ‘Poem of the Week'

Food Semiology in Selected Poems in ‘Lere Oladitan's ‘Poem of the Week'

Ibrahim Esan Olaosun
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2020010104
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Inspired by the popular view in the field of semiotics that everything is a sign of something or a sign for something, this article dwells on food significations in ‘Lere Oladitan's poem titled “Mounds for Sharing” in his poetry collection titled ‘Poem of the Week.' Using this poem as the paradigm to deconstruct some other poems in the collection, the article deconstructs this semiological practice (food symbolism) in four ways: first, as a sign deployed by the poet to contribute to the aesthetic and affective qualities of the poem; second, as an appropriation and exhibition of the values of giving and sharing which typify many (if not all) African cultures; third, as a semiotic strategy of self- depiction and fourth, as the strategy for developing the motif of sacrifice practically demonstrated by the poet in the manner in which the poems were first freely disseminated before they were compiled and published into a book form in 2016. Mounds for Sharing is used in this article as the paradigm of the other poems in the collection because there is ample evidence to show that the poem is the container of the general motifs developed in the other poems. First, the poet himself refers to it as “the signature tune” of the collection. Second, “Iyán tí mo gún, Baba má jẹ ǹ nìkan jẹ́” (the first two lines of the poem) is now Oladitan's sobriquet or designation in Obafemi Awolowo University community. The poet is now being referred to as Professor Iyán tí mo gún (Professor the Pounded Yam I Prepare) in the academic community. Third, in the inaugural lecture presented by the poet on August 23, 2011, the poem was given a theatrical performance by Awo Vasity Theatre, a theatre that is based in Obafemi Awolowo Universty Ile, Ife, Nigeria. The article indicates that food-related representations in the poem convey more than the general sense of food as the substance eaten for survival. The analysis, cast within the framework of food semiotics, shows that each poem of ‘Lere Oladitan is a kind of food which carries one or a combination of such connotations of food as: food for the thought, food for the social psyche and memory and food for personal spiritual and psychosocial growth.
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1. Conceptual Background

Food has denotative and connotative senses. It is a multifaceted semiotic sign or sign vehicle which creates other discourses or about which other discourses are understood. It communicates several meanings and serves as an expressive resource of language. In its denotative sense, it is the substance (liquid or solid) that passes through gastrointestinal system and gives sustenance to humans and other eating living things. In its connotative sense, food is a metaphor of many things about life (concrete and abstract) and numerous natures of existence. Quoting Paul Schmidt, Kiel (1998) says: “When we think about food we are often thinking and writing about something else; food always means something beyond the fact of what we put into our mouths; a loving and living and dying.” Simona Stano (2016) quotes Barthes (1997) as saying that “food is a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations and behaviours.” To him, “food is not only a substance for survival and nourishment but is also part of a sign system as it is strictly involved in processes of signification and interpretation”. Danesi (2004, p. 194) indicates that food is “a sign imbued with meaning”.

Relating to its communicative function is the fact that food is identity marker. The food eaten by individuals can be suggestive of their levels of affluence and other social values. In other words, food determines people’s form and social standings. While exotic foods are associated with the rich, ordinary ones are associated with the poor.

That food is semiotic is a fact that has long been established in written and unwritten literature. Food is a significant part of human material and spiritual existence. The synecdoche reference to Bread in the verse of the Lord’s Prayer: give us this day, our daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13), is a pointer to the significance of food in the life of man. Also, in the Qur’an and other places in the Bible, there are several literal and metaphoric references to food or uses of food metaphor. For instance, the fall of the First Man came as a result of the eating of the forbidden fruit. In addition, there are several events in the Bible which involve food and drink. One of these events is the symbolic Last Supper (the last meal of Jesus with his disciples before his death) where bread and wine were served. Also, whenever the Quran describes the pleasure of the paradise, there is regular reference to food, eating and drinking. For example, Quran chapter 69, verse 24, says “Eat and drink at ease for that which you have sent forth (good deeds) in days past”.

There are several impressive studies especially in the fields of Anthropology, Sociology, History and Food Studies focusing on food ethnography, food culture and changing in food habits, food sharing, food science and technology, etc. One of the facts developed by scholars in these fields is that food is life or vice versa. Every living thing lives on food and the universe itself cannot exist without food. According to Cunningham (2012), food is a life-sustaining substance, containing the energies of the Earth. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “there is no love sincerer than the love of food”. In the theological realm, it is believed that even God feeds on, and gets satisfactions from human praises, prayers, obedience, and honesty to other humans etc. In traditional African communities, food sacrifices are made to gods and goddesses –reflecting the common belief amongst the people that these gods and goddesses also eat. Some of these food sacrifices, usually placed at the crossroads, create fears or reliefs depending on the individual food components (each component is understood as a sign of something) that constitute the sacrifices.

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