Food, drink and cooking
In the late 1970s and early 1980s three feminist sociologists, Anne Murcott in South Wales, and Nicky Charles and Marion Kerr in Yorkshire, opened up another previously private and unconsidered research area, that of food, drink, and cooking. Charles and Kerr studied families on benefit, to see how women managed to provide food when the family income was very low. Anne Murcott’s background had included community studies. She was involved with Meg Stacey’s second study of Banbury (Stacey et al., 1975) and medical sociology. In mid-career she conducted a study of women having a baby in the South Wales valleys to discover their ideologies or cosmologies of food (Murcott, 1983). From this came a whole sociology of food and drink, eating and drinking. Studies such as Charles and Kerr (1988) and The Nation’s Diet initiative (Murcott, 1998) on food choices in contemporary Britain teach us about gender, identity and social change. The Nation’s Diet, includes projects on newly established households, on African-Caribbean and white families in London, on rural Wales, on older people, and on Italians and South Asians in Glasgow. What people eat, whether it is prepared from scratch, bought ready to microwave, carried home from a takeaway or eaten in a pub or cafe, is an important element in their sense of self: their race, their religion, their respectability.
Valentine (1999) reports a study of 67 people from 12 households in Yorkshire. Valentine argues that food choices were one of the ways that families and households established and maintained their identities, whether religious, cultural or sub-cultural. Her informants include a Muslim couple who use food, along with sending their children to after school Islam classes at the Mosque, to maintain their cultural identity, and vegetarians self-consciously creating a new, meat-free identity for themselves. Valentine’s study of food choices at home is complemented by research on eating out. The interrelations between food, drink, religion and identity are explored further in Delamont (1994). Here again, feminist sociologists opened up a new topic, which grew into a whole research area of interest beyond feminists (e. g. Purdue et al., 1997; Warde et al., 1999). The sixth theme, childbirth, has remained of more concern to women.