The term "cooking" encompasses a vast range of methods, tools, and combinations of ingredients to improve the flavor or digestibility of food. Cooking technique, known as culinary art, generally requires the selection, measurement, and combining of ingredients in an ordered procedure in an effort to achieve the desired result. Constraints on success include the variability of ingredients, ambient conditions, tools, and the skill of the individual cook. The diversity of cooking worldwide is a reflection of the myriad nutritional, aesthetic, agricultural, economic, cultural, and religious considerations that affect it.
Several organisations have begun calling for a new kind of agriculture in which agroecosystems provide food but also support vital ecosystem services so that soil fertility and biodiversity are maintained rather than compromised. According to the International Water Management Institute and UNEP, well-managed agroecosystems not only provide food, fiber and animal products, they also provide services such as flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, erosion control and habitats for plants, birds, fish and other animals.
Proponents of raw foodism argue that cooking food increases the risk of some of the detrimental effects on food or health. They point out that during cooking of vegetables and fruit containing vitamin C, the vitamin elutes into the cooking water and becomes degraded through oxidation. Peeling vegetables can also substantially reduce the vitamin C content, especially in the case of potatoes where most vitamin C is in the skin. However, research has shown that in the specific case of carotenoids a greater proportion is absorbed from cooked vegetables than from raw vegetables.
Unlike food processors, food retailing is a two-tier market in which a small number of very large companies control a large proportion of supermarkets. The supermarket giants wield great purchasing power over farmers and processors, and strong influence over consumers. Nevertheless, less than 10% of consumer spending on food goes to farmers, with larger percentages going to advertising, transportation, and intermediate corporations.
Food marketing brings together the producer and the consumer. The marketing of even a single food product can be a complicated process involving many producers and companies. For example, fifty-six companies are involved in making one can of chicken noodle soup. These businesses include not only chicken and vegetable processors but also the companies that transport the ingredients and those who print labels and manufacture cans. The food marketing system is the largest direct and indirect non-government employer in the United States.
In the western world, finger foods are often either appetizers (hors d'œuvres) or entree/main course items. Examples of these are miniature meat pies, sausage rolls, sausages on sticks, cheese and olives on sticks, chicken drumsticks or wings, spring rolls, miniature quiches, samosas, sandwiches, Merenda or other such based foods, such as pitas or items in buns, bhajjis, potato wedges, vol au vents, several other such small items and risotto balls (arancini). Other well-known foods that are generally eaten with the hands include hamburgers, pizza, Chips, hot dogs, fruit and bread.
Food products produced by animals include milk produced by mammary glands, which in many cultures is drunk or processed into dairy products (cheese, butter, etc.). In addition, birds and other animals lay eggs, which are often eaten, and bees produce honey, a reduced nectar from flowers, which is a popular sweetener in many cultures. Some cultures consume blood, sometimes in the form of blood sausage, as a thickener for sauces, or in a cured, salted form for times of food scarcity, and others use blood in stews such as jugged hare.