Changing Families, Changing Food Programme Summary Peter Jackson, University of Sheffield
Changing Families, Changing Food • Conclusion of a three-year, inter-disciplinary research programme funded by The Leverhulme Trust (F/00 118/AQ) • Focus on contemporary Britain with some historical and international comparisons • 15 inter-related projects, organised into three research strands, across the life-course.
Why families and food? • Food is a powerful lens through which to view recent changes in family life • A means of addressing the diversity of family life: • variations between families (class, ethnicity, place…) • dynamics within families (gender, generation…) • different family types (singles, nuclear, extended…) • changing family contexts (historical, cultural…) • The project offers a new perspective on family life, transcending disciplinary boundaries and challenging received ideas about ‘the family’.
‘The family’ in contemporary Britain • No such thing as ‘the family’ (single, timeless, homogeneous entity) • It is a ‘falsely monolithic’ concept (Marjorie De Vault, Feeding the family, 1991) • And yet the (nuclear) family remains a powerful normative social ideal, underpinned by strong institutional structures and capable of exerting considerable moral force • Strength of relationship between family and food also revealed in our work with homeless people where quasi-familial relations were created in institutional settings through ‘home cooking’ and networks of ‘fictive kin’.
Family diversity Families have always taken diverse forms including (since 1945) increases in: • single-person households • cohabiting couples • divorced and separated couples • step families • gay and lesbian couples • the archetypal nuclear family (where husband, wife and children live together under the same roof) currently comprises less than a third (27.5%) of UK families.
‘Doing family’ • De Vault: ‘a ‘family’ is not a naturally occurring collection of individuals; its reality is constructed from day to day through activities like eating together’ (1991: 39) • A practice-based definition of family, approached via the everyday work of ‘doing family’.
Changing food • Series of ‘food scares’ and farming crises (BSE, salmonella, FMD etc) have led to a politicisation of food, raising questions of trust and consumer confidence • Increased retail concentration has placed more power in hands of the ‘big 4’ supermarket chains • Rising food and energy prices have put pressure on household budgets (‘The end of cheap food’, The Economist December 2007).
Food and family: why now? • Increasing political and popular interest in families and food (childhood obesity, school meals, 5-a-day etc) • Cabinet Office (Food: an analysis of the issues and Food Matters reports, 2008) • IPPR seminar Food for Thought, 2007 and Best Before report, 2008 • But little sustained social scienceresearch since The Nation’s Diet (ESRC, 1992-98).
Obesity as a social problem • The Foresight report on Tackling Obesities (Oct 2007) concluded that ‘policies aimed solely at individuals will be inadequate’ • Need for greater understanding of ‘wider cultural changes’ • Action required by ‘government … industry, communities, families and society as a whole.
Research findings • Government policy recognises diverse family circumstances but still implicitly addresses consumers as individuals (primarily through advice to mothers): “The opportunities are now opening up rapidly for everyone to make their own individual informed healthy choices” (Choosing Health, DoH, 2004). • Policy interventions acknowledge impact of poverty and inequality but still tend to focus on deficits within families (e.g. cooking and parenting skills) • Improvements in ‘healthy eating’ require more than an information or family deficit model.
Food is socially embedded • FSA statistics: 71% of consumers are aware of the government’s 5-a-day target but only 55% meet the target (Consumer Attitudes Survey, Feb 2007) • Children and parents are well aware of dominant narratives about ‘healthy eating’ but not always reflected in practice.
Pregnancy and motherhood • Pregnancy and motherhood as ‘projects’ to be managed, balancing (often conflicting) professional advice (e.g. feeding on demand) with the idea of motherhood as an intuitive identity based on embodied knowledge • Pregnancy increasingly medicalised over last 40 years, technologies of surveillance (e.g. scans) and promotion of healthy lifestyle (e.g. Healthy Start) • Expectations have changed, pregnant women are more confident in public but also under more pressure regarding ideal body shape and size (‘celebrity mums’).
Feeding the family • Feeding the family remains highly gendered practice with women doing the majority of routine food work • Men are cooking more, but mostly on special occasions, where they have professional skills or where female partners indisposed • Children do little cooking, except snacks and cakes • Mothers’ commitment to cooking ‘proper’ family meals from scratch is often offset by the need to balance other (family and work-related) commitments, including feeding hungry kids after school • The content of the ‘family meal’ creatively manipulated by mothers to accommodate individual food preferences.
Family meals Change in the timing of meals, away from clear pattern of three meals a day at set times towards more frequent, informal eating events (snacking and grazing) But no overall decline in the amount of time families spend eating, inside and outside the home Proper ‘family meals’, cooked from scratch, remain an important symbol of family life, a widely-shared aspiration Media emphasis on the decline of the family meal seems exaggerated and not supported by historical or sociological evidence.
School meals • School meals have been intense focus of recent media and policy interest • School lunch as space of contested discourses: civility, nutrition, choice, efficiency • School lunch boxes as a transitional space between home/school, family/peer group, imagination/reality (dream and nightmare lunch boxes…) • Children were critical of the standard and cost of school meals, but not seen by them as key eating events, suggests that policies promoting healthy eating for children which position the school as a critical site for their delivery may be misguided.
Lay and professional knowledge • Our research reveals significant gaps between lay and professional ideas about ‘healthy eating’ (among health managers and practitioners) • Tensions between idealised notions of the nuclear family and day-to-day experience of diversity of family forms • Notions of the ‘ideal’ nuclear family are deeply rooted and continue to influence policy and practice.
British culinary culture Specificity of contemporary British food culture(s) revealed by international and historical comparisons: • hosting and toasting in Hungary vs the middle-class model of entertainment in the UK (the dinner party) • the normative and nationalistic connotations of official food discourse in Japan • inter-generational change among Ukrainians in Bradford (food as a vehicle for advancing political project of independence, food as a means of facilitating active citizenship within multicultural Britain).
Food as problem and pleasure • Food ads in Britain in 1940s and 50s repeated government health advice but also emphasised role of diet in looking good, soothing the nerves, improving digestion and achieving weight loss • Food ads today repeat this tension between food as problem/food as pleasure (e.g. children’s food advertised as healthy and fun).
Programme outputs • Books: • Changing Families, Changing Food (ed. Peter Jackson, Palgrave-Macmillan) • Children, Food and Identity (eds. Allison James et al., Palgrave-Macmillan) • Who Cares? Doing family, doing food, doing care (eds. Graham Smith and Paula Nicolson). • Journal papers: • British Journal of Nutrition; Midwives Journal; Social Science and Medicine; Gender, Place and Culture; Journal of Public Health; Public Health Nutrition; Children’s Geographies; Population, Space and Place; Social Semiotics; British Journal of Social Psychology; Food, Culture and Society; Oral History etc. • Conference presentations: over 50 papers at national and international meetings including our own mid-term and final conferences.
Outputs/cont… • Annotated bibliography with >1000 entries • Working paper and seminar series • Media coverage: including Woman’s Hour (R4) and a double-page spread in Times Higher Education Supplement • Exhibition on family and food planned for Weston Park Museum (Sheffield) and Museum of Childhood (Bethnal Green) • Website: more than 2000 hits per month on www.sheffield.ac.uk/familiesandfood.
Future research • European Research Council Advanced Grant on ‘Consumer anxieties about food’ (£1.3m 2009-13) –awarded September 2008 • Marie Curie ITN bid on ‘Food agendas’ (with colleagues in Denmark, Norway and Sweden) – under review • Bid to ESRC-Swedish Research Council bilateral scheme on Fair Trade initiatives – under review • Food Standards Agency’s new Social Science Research Committee.
Thanks… • The Leverhulme Trust • Our research participants • Project teams (led by Paula, Graham and Allison) • Colleagues at The British Library • Graham Allsopp (Drawing Office in Sheffield) • Jackie Pickering (programme administrator) • You, the audience • Our ‘critical friends’ (David Morgan, Anne Murcott and Libby Bishop) – the last word.
Family Meal at Home: ‘Sixty dollars a month isn’t a lot of money, but Mrs Siebold is a good manager and she feeds her family well with the small budget she has for food’ (WPA, November 1937).