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.
A new introductory sociology textbook I co-authored with Kate Cairns and Shyon Baumann is out now! You can peruse the introductory pages by clicking “Look Inside” at this link. Here is what one reviewer had to say about Introducing sociology using the stuff of everyday life:
“From designer jeans to iPhones, cultural understandings and material arrangements come together to shape what we buy and why. With a remarkable gift for storytelling, the authors shows us how the things we use reflect the conflict between our private lives and the public issues structuring them. After reading this book, it will be impossible to see a marketing campaign or a PR event in quite the same way. I can’t wait to teach Using the Stuff of Everyday Life in my classroom!”