People’s selection of food ‘is at the same time both intensely personal, bound up with individual tastes and household experiences of domesticity, and thoroughly public, an important aspect of citizenship nationally and, indeed, globally. Food purchase, use and consumption bring together the private and public, the local and the global’ (Cook, Crang and Thorpe, 1998: 162).
Cook, I., Crang, P., Thorpe, M., 1998. Biographies and Geographies: Consumer Understandings of the Origins of Foods. British Food Journal 100 (3), 162–167.
This quote is a fantastic starting point for the social and geographical importance of food and what it reveals about ourselves and our relations across space and society.
In the 1960s a famous French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, did a study of social class in French society. It was published in English in 1984 as Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. It’s about the things that the middle and upper classes do to distance or distinguish themselves from the working classes. It is based on empirical research, which is fieldwork or finding things out by asking and observing.
Distinction has a chapter about food. In it Bourdieu notes that in the working classes fish is regarded as inappropriate for a man. It’s not filling enough and like bananas it is too fiddly for the man’s hands to cope with, and so makes him childish because the woman has to adopt a maternal role of preparing the fish on the plate. But more so, he notes, it is because fish has to be eaten in a way that ‘contradicts the masculine way of eating, that is, with restraint, in small mouthfuls, chewed gently, with the front of the mouth, on the tips of the teeth’ (Bourdieu, 1984 : 188).
Further, Bourdieu found that nibbling and picking is perceived as feminine; masculinity means taking big mouthfuls and gulps. Whilst talking with the front of the mouth or the back and the throat is similarly gendered and classed.
Bourdieu, P., 2010 . Distinction. Abingdon: Routledge.