Although much is known about how affluent ‘‘foodies’’ use food as a marker of status and distinction, what are the food tastes of people with a lower socioeconomic status?
In a new article in the Journal of Consumer Culture, Shyon Baumann, Michelle Szabo and I investigate this question. We analyze interview data from 254 individuals from 105 families across Canada to explore the cultural repertoires that guide low-socioeconomic-status consumer tastes in food. We asked respondents across socioeconomic status groups which foods they prefer, and for what reasons.
We argue that low socioeconomic- status respondents show aesthetic preferences that operate according to four cultural repertoires. These repertoires are notably different from people with a high socioeconomic status who practice “cultural omnivorousness” (i.e. eating a wide range of high-status and low-status foods). Our respondents display tastes for foods from corporate brands, familiar ‘‘ethnic’’ foods, and foods they perceive as healthy.
Even though low-socioeconomic-status taste preferences in food are shaped by everyday economic constraints – what Bourdieu called ‘‘tastes of necessity’’ – we show how cultural repertoires guiding low-socioeconomic-status tastes relate to both material circumstances and broader socio-temporal contexts. Our findings shed light on the underlying meanings and justifications behind food ideals among people with low socioeconomic status.
The intention to buy organic food tends to be associated with parents who have children under the age of five. Health and taste concerns are top of mind in informing their purchases.
The intention to buy local food tends to be associated with educated, white women consumers. For these shoppers, collectivist concerns like the environment and supporting the local economy are a key motivator.
We argue that the predominant ‘individualist’ vs. ‘collectivist’ framing in the scholarly literature should be reformulated to accommodate an intermediate motivation.
Organic food consumption is often motivated by a desire to consume for others (e.g. children) in ways that aren’t straightforwardly individualist or collectivist, but that instead exemplify a caring motivation that falls somewhere between the two.
Professor Kate Cairns and I are always happy to hear when our recent book, Food and Femininity, has struck a chord with readers. Here is a compilation of the thoughtful reviews the book has received so far. We hope our contribution continues to push forward critical conversations about gender, feminism, food and inequality.
Academic conference season is underway! I’m looking forward to sharing my newest research at upcoming events, and several of the students I supervise will be speaking about their own exciting work. Here are some of the conferences where we will be presenting (or have recently presented):
Kelly, Heather, David Newman, Julia Smeed, Jacquie Beaulieu and Alexandra Rodney. “(Re)Designing the student experience: What happens when we stop surveying students and start talking to them?” (14 June)
Congrats to Alexandra Rodney, who has been awarded a SAGE Teaching Innovations & Professional Development Award! The award is from the American Sociological Association Section on Teaching and Learning. As part of the award, she is heading to Montreal in August to take part in a pre-conference workshop on teaching and learning.
Alongside her dissertation research on healthy living blogs, which I supervise, Alexandra has been committed to strengthening student learning experiences both inside the classroom and with UofT’s Innovation Hub. This month, she’ll be presenting a paper at the Canadian Association of Food Studies assembly in Toronto on an experiential learning activity she designed to help students learn about the lived experience of food insecurity. Specifically, students in her Canadian Foodways class had the option of living on a social assistance food budget for one week (similar to BC’s Welfare Food Challenge). The assignment served as a powerful way of helping students connect their individual experiences with the broader context of inequality and food politics.
Photo credit: plasticchef1 on Flickr Creative Commons
A commentary I published in the Journal of Marketing Management, “Can consumers buy alternative foods at a big box supermarket?”, is now available online (and free for the month of May). It’s part of a special issue that considers the question of “alternatives” in food and drink markets (Eds. J Smith Maguire, J Lang and D Watson). I use a case study of ethical meat to consider the diverse, often contradictory ideals that inform consumers’ search for alternatives to mainstream market options.
I propose three main takeaways. 1) The goal of producing consumer alternatives is significantly hampered by the competing, and often contradictory demands of market forces. 2) The discourse of food alternatives uses a ‘win-win’ logic suggesting that consumers don’t have to sacrifice anything or change their habits. I believe that consumer projects for ecological and social change face a necessary but exceptionally challenging task of reshaping, and even downgrading consumer expectations. 3) Although I’m deeply sympathetic to the desire to “feel good” about shopping, the search for eco-social alternatives cannot simply make consumers feel good about their purchases. Food ‘alternatives’ have to go beyond feel good feelings, and address the material realities and limitations of niche markets.
Through an immersion in the processes of decision making for household food choices, Food and Femininity offers a rich account of the thorny tensions faced by shoppers attempting to work out food ethics in their everyday eating lives. However, as Cairns and Johnston spotlight, these tensions are even more acute for women attempting to walk the tightrope of enacting feminist, post-feminist and healthy eating bodies within the framework of gendered food practices. . . . this book not only examines food and femininity, it also sets out feminist methodologies for researching food issues.