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22. Sociology of food


shutterstock_113847553soc_of_foodFood is a basic human necessity but it is intimately connected to many other dimensions of social life. For example, the food that we eat needs to be understood in relation to the political and economic organisation of food production. This invites a focus on agriculture and land use, environment and society, international trade, and social justice. Similarly, eating is rarely a purely functional or biological act insofar as food is a powerful means of cultural expression. This invites a focus on consumption and identity, tastes and preferences, meaning and significance, and social divisions.

The emergence of a nameable sociology of food and eating can be traced to the 1980s and cast against a more general intellectual vogue for opening up of the familiar as new terrain of enquiry. The habit of almost everybody eating several times a day absorbs a huge amount of time, effort and co-ordination. In focusing on activities such as grocery shopping, planning, storage, meal preparation and clearing up, the sociology of food is characterised by an overwhelming bias towards consumption and the social organisation of eating. At the same time, questions of food production have been dealt with under the auspices of rural sociology and agri-food research.

Research at The University of Manchester has played a vital role in establishing food as a legitimate topic of sociological enquiry. Notably Alan Warde’s 1997 book Consumption, Food and Taste put forward a sophisticated account of food practices that doubled as a crucial intervention in theories of consumption and social change. A number of Manchester scholars including Dale Southerton, David Evans and Luke Yates have continued to focus on questions of who eats what, where and when. Much of this work has operationalized ‘the meal’ as a central sociological concept, and one that provides useful insights into the ordering of social relations and everyday life.  In addition to making valuable contributions to topics as diverse as eating out, migration, family life and domestic divisions of labour, this research has had significant impact outside of academia in debates about sustainable food consumption and food waste.

Further reading

Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure (2000) by Alan Warde and Lydia Martens

Waste Matters: New Perspectives on Food and Society (2013) by David Evans

and coming soon…

Food Waste: Home consumption, material culture and everyday life (2014) by David Evans


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