Work Package 3: Food Safety and Consumer Practice
This work package will explore the role of innovations (such as fridges, freezers, cookers and 'use-by' dates) in the transformation of domestic provisioning practices in South Yorkshire over the last 70 years.
A review of work on what we do with food once it leaves the shop reveals gaps in knowledge. What we do know tends to be anecdotal or based on self-report. Few have explored domestic food provisioning practices in context as people interact with food and other objects, both at the points of purchase, storage, preparation, consumption and disposal.
A range of public policy concerns and private anxieties circulate around domestic food practices. For example, concerns regarding the incidence of indigenous foodborne disease in the UK has led to the emergence of an understanding of consumer behaviour, within the food industry and among food scientists, which is based on assumptions about consumer ignorance and poor food hygiene knowledge and cooking skills. These assumptions are accompanied by perceptions of a loss of `common-sense´ understandings about the spoilage and storage characteristics of food, supposedly characteristic of earlier generations. Such assumptions are simplistic and fail to acknowledge the complex relationships which converge in people´s everyday provisioning practices.
This work package will focus on everyday kitchen practices, drawing on current theories of practice to explore the ways in which differing – and often competing – discourses and sources of knowledge regarding food safety and `correct´ food handling are negotiated into practice. It will also examine the role of a variety of innovations, ranging from `use-by´ dates and anti-bacterial sprays, to fridges, freezers and cookers. It will explore how both these discourses/knowledges and `innovating agents´, which are assumed to have made household food provisioning both safer and easier, have been integrated into families´ existing provisioning and kitchen practices, and with what effect.
This work package will combine in-depth ethnographic and life history interview-based work to explore patterns of continuity and change in families´ kitchen practices over at least two generations. Based in South Yorkshire, the sample will vary in socio-economic status, cultural and family composition. The research is designed to investigate the extent to which food features among a wider range of consumer anxieties, comparing contemporary perceptions with those recalled, particularly by older participants, of their childhood and youth.
Key questions that the work package will explore include:
• How are public/private discourses concerning food safety negotiated, together with any other concerns about food, through practices of provisioning?
• What are the roles of intermediaries such as fridges, freezers cookers, `use-by´ dates, anti-bacterial sprays, meat thermometers, in the dynamics of provisioning practices?
• In what way are food anxieties and provisioning practices negotiated via patterns of continuity and change between generations and within families?
• What factors/events lead to disruption in existing provisioning practices?
• How are `expert´ and `lay´ knowledge negotiated in provisioning practice and how do these interact to produce or allay anxiety?
We shall examine participants´ provisioning, food preparation and cooking practices through guided kitchen tours, which will be video-recorded.
Already completed are a series of focus groups with people representing a range of ages, and a diversity of cultural, social and economic backgrounds. Discussions explore how food anxiety is/not conceptualised by different people and the related impact on practice; the events which contribute to heightening their awareness of the `risks´ associated with everyday food consumption, and how notions of `responsibility´ are distributed in relation to these risks.
To view some of the images from our household study, visit our online photogallery by clicking the link on the right.