Food, Health and Identity: Approaches from the Social Sciences


Edited by Pat Caplan
London and New York: Routledge 1997

Notice outside butcher's shop in West Wales reassuring consumers that their beef is from a local farm.'You are what you eat' - or do you eat what you are? How do our identities affect what we choose to eat? Food, Health and Identity considers the way in which our eating habits are changing, and shows how our social and personal identities, as well as our perceptions of health and risk, influence our choices. The Introduction seeks to indicate how social scientists can help us understand why people at what they do. In the following chapters, well-known anthropologists and sociologists consider themes of change and continuity in the context of the family meal, wedding cakes, nostalgia and the invention of tradition, the 'creolisation' of British food, and increases in vegetarianism and eating out. A second theme is that of identity, with studies of both ethic minorities and the dominant majority, as well as the construction of individual identity through culinary lifestyle. Finally questions of health and risk perception are addressed in discussions of current healthy eating' advice and the way in which people respond to it, including a study of recent BSE crises in the context of government/media relations and the new environmental radicalism.

Food, Health and Identity thus raises issues which are topical in the West such as the relative ineffectiveness of official healthy eating advice. It will provide invaluable reading for students of anthropology, cultural studies, health promotion, as well as for those scientists and policy-makers who are concerned with food.

Menu of a café which caters largely for tourists. Addendum (from the Preface)
In 1995, I was invited to convene a day-long panel on a subject of my own choosing at the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) annual conference. I selected the topic of 'Food in Britain' from a social science viewpoint. Several of the contributors to that panel were carrying out research for a project entitled 'Concepts of Healthy Eating' (Caplan, Keane, Willetts and Williams), while Murcott was the Director of the ESRC Research Programme of which that Project was a part ('The Nation's Diet: the Social Science of Food Choice'). Other contributors had already carried out research and published on food in Britain as had Murcott herself. All of their BAAS papers are included in this collection. In addition, several new contributors joined the book project: Martens and Warde, and Reilly who were also carrying out research for their own projects as part of 'The Nation's Diet' programme, while three young researchers (Bradby, Cohn, and Harbottle) were studying food practices as part of their doctoral research.

Chapter 1. Introduction Pat Caplan
Chapter 2. Family meals - a thing of the past? Anne Murcott
Chapter 3. Marriages, weddings and their cakes Simon Charsley
Chapter 4. How British is British Food? Allison James
Chapter 5. Fast food/spoiled identity: Iranian migrants in the British catering trade Lynn Harbottle
Chapter 6. 'Bacon sandwiches got the better of me': meat eating and vegetarianism in South London Anna Willetts
Chapter 7. Urban Pleasure? On the meaning of eating out in a northern city Lydia Martens and Alan Warde
Chapter 8. 'We never eat like this at home': food on holiday Janice Williams
Chapter 9. Too hard to swallow: the palatability of healthy eating advice Anne Keane
Chapter 10. Being Told What to Eat: Conversations in a Diabetes Day Centre Simon Cohn
Chapter 11. Health, heating and heart attacks: Glaswegian Punjabi women's thinking about everyday food Hanna Bradby
Chapter 12. Scaremonger or Scapegoat? The role of the media in the emergence of food as an issue Jacquie Reilly
Chapter 13. Declining Meat - past, present ...and future imperfect? Nick Fiddes

Other publications on food and risk


  • Caplan, P. 2000. Risk Revisited (ed.) Pluto Press. London and Sterling, Virginia

Working papers and reports

  • 1994a: "Feasts, fasts, famine: food for thought" Berg Occasional Papers in Anthropology. Berg Publications, l994.
  • 1995: Food, Health and Fertility Further Investigated with Particular Reference to Gender: a Report on Fieldwork on Mafia Island, Tanzania, June-August 1994. Report present to the Tanzania National Scientific Research Council, July 1995 (38pp.).
  • 2003: Local Understandings of Modernity: Food and Food Security on Mafia Island, Tanzania Report presented to the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (85pp).

Chapters and articles

  • 1992: "Famine" Times Higher Education Supplement 4/9/92: 13 & 15
  • 1993: "Feasts, Fasts, Famine: Food for Thought" Anthropology in Action, Issue 14.
  • 1996: "Why do people eat what they do? Approaches to food and diet from a social science perspective" in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry vol. 1. no. 2. April
  • 1998 (with A. Keane, A. Willetts and J. Williams) 'Concepts of Healthy Eating: Approaches from a social science perspective'. in A. Murcott (ed.) The Nation's Diet: the Social Science of Food Choice Longman, London and New York. pp. 168-82.
  • 1999 (with A. Keane) 'Health Professionals' Concepts of Healthy Eating' in B.M. Koehler and E. Feichtinger, E. Dowler and G. Winkler (eds.) Public Health and Nutrition: The Challenge Edition Sigma, Rainer Bohn Verlag. Berlin. pp. 228-44.
  • 1999 'Where have all the young girls gone? Gender and sex ratios on Mafia Island, Tanzania' in Agrarian Economy, State and Society in Contemporary Tanzania ed. P. Forster and S. Maghimbi. Avebury Press.
  • 2000 'Eating British Beef with Confidence': perceptions of the risk of BSE in London and West Wales. in P. Caplan (ed.) Risk Revisited Pluto Press, London and Sterling, Virginia
  • 2000. 'Food in middle-class households in Madras, 1974-94' in B.C.A. Walraven and K. Cwiertka (eds.) Food in Asia: the Global and the Local ConsumAsiaN series, Curzon Press.
  • 2000. 'Introduction: anthropology and risk' in P. Caplan (ed.) Risk Revisited London and New York, Routledge.
  • 2000. 'Eating British Beef with Confidence: perceptions of the risk of BSE in London and West Wales'. In P. Caplan (ed.) Risk Revisited. Pluto Press, London and Sterling, Virginia. Pp. 184-203
  • 2001. 'Civilization and barbarism: an anthropological approach' in Comparative Criticism 23. Ed. E. Shaffer. CUP: 155-71.