This article, published in Social Problems, explores how family meals are framed in news media discourse, particularly in regard to health. In it, Merin identifies a narrative of deterioration, or the presumption that families are replacing meals made from whole, unprocessed ingredients consumed communally around a table, with processed and pre-prepared foods eaten alone or “on the go”. In analyzing the construction of responsibility for this deterioration, Merin differentiates frames that assign responsibility for the creation of this social problem, from those that offer solutions for resolving it. In contrast to other scholars who focus on how cooking values reproduce individualized (rather than environmental, state or industry) responsibility for health outcomes characteristic of neoliberalism, she finds a more complex allocation of blame in news media: one that recognizes a multiplicity of structural conditions constraining regular family meals (such as unhealthy food environments and the competing demands of paid work and inflated normative standards), yet assigns responsibility for resolving that social problem to individuals (i.e. parents should simply work harder to combat these pressures and cook more at home). One important exception is media reporting on low-income families, who are framed as facing exceptional structural constraint. Merin argues that these findings apply to family meals particularly but can also be extended to consider the allocation of responsibility for social problems within neoliberalism more broadly. Link: https://academic.oup.com/socpro/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/socpro/spz006/5420111
In this article, published in Gender & Society, Merin draws from qualitative interviews and cooking observations to identify and analyze the cultural schema of “cooking by our mother’s side”: i.e. the automatic, semi-conscious understanding that learning to cook happens first and foremost “at our mother’s side”. She demonstrates first, that this schema reproduces gendered inequalities over generations by reinforcing women as primary transmitters of cooking knowledge. Second, she shows that the schema presents an overly uniform picture of food learning that obscures diversity in its enactment, especially by overemphasizing the importance of childhood and masking the learning that occurs later in life. Merin argues that identifying and analyzing this schema offers opportunities to reconsider predominant approaches to food learning to challenge gendered inequalities in domestic foodwork. Link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0891243219839669
In a Poetics article co-authored with Tyler Bateman and Shyon Baumann, we investigate how meat is covered in public discourse. We use topic modelling to map the discourse as it appears in news media and on blogs. We find that meat is a commodity with a highly ambiguous status. On the one hand, it is connected to environmental risks, health risks, and business risks. On the other hand, meat has a benign, taken-for-granted quality that makes these risks disappear from public view. When we compare how newspapers and blogs discuss meat, we find that blogs tend to give more emphasis to meat’s risks.
Why do people continue to eat meat, even when they are aware of its health consequences, the environmental externalities, and the harsh conditions in many confined animal feeding operations?
In this article in Sociological Forum, we examine a diverse sample of Canadian meat eaters and vegetarians to study justifications for eating meat. We identify 4 key cultural repertoires that people employ to make sense of their continued meat-eating: embodied masculinity, cultural preservation, consumer apathy, and consumer sovereignty. Building off prior psychological findings, the identification of these cultural repertoires allows us to understand more fully how and why people maintain their meat consumption—even in the face of growing public discourse about meat’s significant health, environmental, and social risks.
I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to carefully read Richard Ocejo’s super interesting book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, for an Author-meets-critic session last Spring at the Eastern Sociology meetings. Ocejo’s book does an excellent job thinking through the labour underpinnings of urban hipster/foodie culture. It’s also an excellent example of how good sociology can creatively make connections between seemingly disparate phenomena — like butchers, cocktails, craft whiskey, and barbershops.
In the article, we question the idea that “more consumer knowledge” will necessarily lead to altered, and more ethical food practices. Mothers are put in a difficult position in relation to children’s’ meat consumption: they feel pressure to teach kids where food comes from, but they also want to protect children from some of the harsh truths of animal slaughter.
Kate Cairns, Merin Oleschuk and I recently wrote a short piece for the Gender & Society blog on the pressures mothers face when feeding children. We write: “When it comes to feeding children, mothers today must avoid the appearance of caring too little, or too much. Either extreme garners social stigma, although the penalties are far from equal.” Read the full piece here.
The article is called “Small-p politics: how pleasurable, convivial and pragmatic political ideals influence engagement in eat-local initiatives”.
In the realm of local food, it’s often important to emphasize how food can be pleasurable and convivial. This is a pragmatic strategy for many reasons, and forces scholars to think carefully about what we mean by “politics”. Interviewing and observing food actors located in civil, state and market spheres in three Canadian cities, we describe a set of commonly articulated political ideals that inform and shape an engagement approach that we call “small-p politics”. We analyze why small-p politics is such an attractive option for food movement actors, but caution that narrowing the scope of tools and topics available for civic participation may compromise the ability for collective action to tackle barriers to justice and sustainability.
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.