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"We're made of meat, so why should we eat vegetables?": food discourses in the school subject home and consumer studies
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Food and Nutrition.
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Background: Food has many different functions. On a physical level, it is needed to survive and to maintain health, but it also has many social, psychological, and emotional meanings. For example, food is used to build relationships, to mark hierarchies, to celebrate holidays, and to influence mood and self-image. Different foods have different cultural meanings, and people are socialized from an early age to recognize and utilize their symbolic value.

One arena where food occupies a central position is the Swedish school subject Home and Consumer Studies (HCS), which focuses on both the physical and the psychosocial dimensions of food-related health. Since these dimensions are not always compatible, the aim of this dissertation was to explore how students and teachers of HCS use big 'D' Discourses to talk about and handle food, with a special focus on vegetables, meat, vegetarian food, and sweet foods.

Methods: Fifty-nine students and five teachers were observed, recorded, and in some cases video-taped. Participants’ talk about vegetables, meat, vegetarian food, and sweet foods was transcribed verbatim and analysed for big 'D' Discourses.

Results: Students mostly based their choice of vegetables on sensory and cultural Discourses. Some vegetables were mandatory and others were optional, depending on whether or not they were part of a recipe or a cultural tradition. The health Discourse was only used if a specific assignment demanded it, and was closely tied to the evaluation Discourse.

Contrary to the sometimes optional status of vegetables, meat was seen as central in the sensory, cultural, health, and social Discourses. Therefore the reduction of meat could be problematic. It was regarded as simultaneously healthy and unhealthy, and it could elicit disgust, but whenever participants talked about decreasing meat consumption, its centrality was invoked as a counterargument.

As an extension of this, vegetarian food was seen as 'empty', deviant, and an unattainable ideal. Access to vegetarian food was limited for meat-eaters, and vegetarians were othered in both positive and negative ways. When vegetarian food was cooked during lessons, it was constructed as something out of the ordinary.

Sweet foods could be viewed as a treasure, as something dangerous and disgusting, or as an unnecessary extra. Home-made varieties were seen as superior. Sweet foods gave social status to both students and teachers, and they could be traded or given away to mark relationships and hierarchies, but also withheld and used to police others.

Conclusion: In summary, two powerful potential opposites met in the HCS classroom: the Discourses of normality (sensory, cultural, and social Discourses), and the Discourses of responsibility (health and evaluation). Normality could make physically healthy food choices difficult because of participants' social identity, the conflicted health Discourse, and too-strict ideals. On the other hand, some people were excluded from normality itself, notably vegetarians, who were seen as deviant eaters, and teachers, who had to balance state-regulated goals in HCS against local norms.

To counteract such problems, teachers can 1) focus on sensory experiences, experimental cooking methods, and already popular foods, 2) challenge normality by the way they speak about and handle different types of food, 3) make cooking and eating more communal and socially inclusive, 4) explore the psychosocial dimension of health on the same level as the physical dimension, and 5) make sure they do not grade students' cultural backgrounds, social identities, or taste preferences. This might go some way towards empowering students to make informed choices about food and health. However, scant resources of things like time, money, and equipment limit what can be achieved in the subject.

Abstract [sv]

Mat har många olika funktioner. Rent fysiskt behöver vi den för att överleva och behålla hälsan, men den har också en rad sociala, psykologiska och känslomässiga betydelser. Exempelvis används mat för att bygga relationer, för att markera hierarkier eller tider på dagen och för att påverka humöret och självbilden. Olika livsmedel har olika symboliskt innehåll, och barn socialiseras tidigt in i ett visst sätt att äta och tänka kring mat.

Ett område där mat har en central plats är det svenska skolämnet hem- och konsumentkunskap (HKK). I kursplanen finns ett starkt fokus på både fysisk och psykosocial hälsa, men för en del människor kan dessa dimensioner ibland vara mer eller mindre inkompatibla. Därför ville jag i denna avhandling undersöka hur lärare och elever pratar om och hanterar olika sorters mat i HKK och vad detta kan få för konsekvenser för lärandet om hälsa.

Jag observerade och spelade in fem lärare och 59 elever med mp3-spelare under 26 HKK-lektioner på fem olika skolor. I vissa fall där jag fick tillåtelse filmade jag också det som hände. Därefter transkriberade jag allt tal om grönsaker, kött, vegetarisk mat och sötsaker och analyserade detta tal med hjälp av diskursanalys för att få reda på vad deltagarna i studien sade "mellan raderna", det vill säga hur deras världsbild kring olika livsmedel såg ut.

Resultatet visade att elever i de flesta fall var fria att välja grönsaker utifrån den egna smaken, förutom när receptet gjorde en viss grönsak obligatorisk eller när en skoluppgift krävde att man skulle ta hänsyn till hälsa. När läraren ansåg att en grönsak var obligatorisk var det mycket svårt för eleven att undvika den, medan däremot grönsaker som bara sågs som tillbehör i många fall blev ignorerade. Vad gällde hälsa kunde grönsaker vara "allmänt nyttiga", men oftare var de bärare av ett specifikt näringsämne som behövdes för att lösa en skoluppgift. I några fall sågs de som tomma och värdelösa.

Kött var centralt och svårt att avstå ifrån, inte bara på grund av smaken utan även för att det "hörde till" de flesta rätter och gav livsviktiga näringsämnen. Samtidigt som det sågs som hälsosamt kunde det också vara farligt, eftersom man kunde äta för mycket protein eller mättat fett. Kött kunde användas som relationsbyggare mellan elever och för att markera status i klassen, så att de som riskerade att hamna utanför var rädda att inte få lika mycket kött som andra. Protein sågs som viktigt och var kopplat till manlighet, muskler och styrka.

I motsats till kött sågs vegetarisk mat som "tom", annorlunda och ett ouppnåeligt ideal. Det var svårt för icke-vegetarianer att få tillgång till vegetarisk mat, förutom när det utgjorde ett särskilt lektionstema. Maten sågs som bristfällig eftersom den inte innehöll kött, och den krävde extra planering för att se till att man fick i sig alla aminosyror. Det kunde vara socialt krångligt att vara vegetarian eftersom det krävde extra jobb av kompisar och skolkökspersonal, men många respekterade vegetarianens val och ansträngde sig för att göra en särskild portion åt dem.

Sötsaker var åtråvärda, men också farliga, äckliga eller onödiga. Hemgjorda bakverk hade högre status. Sötsaker kunde användas för att markera vem man var kompis med och inte, men gav även upphov till konflikter när elever hade olika åsikt om det "perfekta resultatet" eller när de var rädda att inte få rättvisa mängder. På grund av sötsakernas koppling till sjukdom och viktuppgång kunde de också användas för att peka ut och nedvärdera dem som åt för mycket eller vid fel tillfälle.

Sammanfattningsvis förekom två huvudgrupper av diskurser: normalitet och ansvar. Å ena sidan sågs smak, kultur och sociala ritualer som viktigt när man talade om och valde matvaror, men å andra sidan krävde ämnet att man såg på mat ur ett mer vetenskapligt hälsoperspektiv. Synen på normalitet gjorde det svårt att välja fysiskt hälsosam mat eftersom social identitet, den motsägelsefulla synen på hälsa och alltför strikta ideal stod i vägen. Å andra sidan fanns det personer som inte hade tillgång till normalitet, såsom vegetarianer och även lärare, som tvingades balansera statligt uppställda mål inom ämnet mot en lokalkultur med delvis andra värderingar.

För att motverka dessa problem kan lärare 1) fokusera på sensorisk träning, experimentell matlagning och måltider som bygger på redan populära rätter, 2) utmana synen på normalitet genom sitt sätt att prata om och hantera olika sorters mat, 3) jobba för att göra matlagningen och måltiderna mer socialt inkluderande, 4) utforska den psykosociala dimensionen av hälsa på samma nivå som den fysiska för att elever ska kunna resonera kring sina matval utifrån smak, kultur och sociala relationer, och 5) undvika fällan att betygsätta elevers smak och kulturella bakgrund. Denna typ av undervisning skulle kunna ge elever fler verktyg för att kunna göra självständiga hälsoval, men det förutsätter att läraren får tillräckligt med resurser i form av lektionstid, förvaringsutrymme och en budget som möjliggör ett brett sortiment av livsmedel.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2016. , 124 p.
Keyword [en]
Critical food literacy, discourse analysis, food sociology, health education, home economics
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Research subject
Food and Nutrition
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-128176ISBN: 978-91-7601-617-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-128176DiVA: diva2:1050067
Public defence
2016-12-16, Hörsal F, Humanisthuset, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2016-12-02 Created: 2016-11-28 Last updated: 2016-12-16Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. 'Don't give us an assignment where we have to use spinach!': food choice and discourse in home and consumer studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>'Don't give us an assignment where we have to use spinach!': food choice and discourse in home and consumer studies
2016 (English)In: International Journal of Consumer Studies, ISSN 1470-6423, E-ISSN 1470-6431, Vol. 40, no 1, 57-65 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The aim of the study was to describe classroom Discourses about vegetables during the planning, cooking, eating and evaluation of meals in the Swedish school subject Home and Consumer Studies. Fifty-nine students and five teachers were recruited from five northern Swedish villages and towns, and then observed, recorded and in some cases video-taped during lessons that took place between 2010 and 2012. Based on 56 instances of talk about vegetables, four Discourses were identified and related to the three aspects of Belasco's culinary triangle of contradictions: identity, responsibility and convenience. The results indicated that the identity-based sensory and cultural Discourses sometimes clashed with the more responsibility-oriented health and evaluation Discourses. The health Discourse was only used when there was an element of evaluation, with assignments connected to grades. In all other cases, the sensory and cultural Discourses guided vegetable use. Sometimes different sensory or cultural assumptions could clash with each other, for example when the teacher insisted on the use of a specific recipe regardless of a student's taste preferences. Since these preferences did not always harmonize with curricular demands for responsibility, there might be a risk of basing grades on aspects of students' identity. Alternatively, students might feel constrained to argue against their own identity in order to be favourably evaluated. Then again, if teachers always bow to student tastes, this limits their chances of learning about food and physical health. Viewing the dilemma through the lens of the culinary triangle of contradictions may help teachers and researchers develop teaching methods that take all aspects of food choice into account.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Wiley-Blackwell, 2016
Keyword
Food, sociology, youth, nutrition, health education, physical health, discourse analysis
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Nutrition and Dietetics
Research subject
Food and Nutrition
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-104784 (URN)10.1111/ijcs.12213 (DOI)000370244800007 ()
Note

Article first published online: 29 MAY 2015

Available from: 2015-06-13 Created: 2015-06-13 Last updated: 2016-11-28Bibliographically approved
2. "He just has to like ham": the centrality of meat in home and consumer studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>"He just has to like ham": the centrality of meat in home and consumer studies
Show others...
2015 (English)In: Appetite, ISSN 0195-6663, E-ISSN 1095-8304, Vol. 95, 101-112 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study aimed to describe Discourses on meat in the school subject Home and Consumer Studies in five different northern Swedish schools. Fifty-nine students and five teachers from five different schools were recorded and in some cases video-taped during lessons. Results indicate that meat was seen as central to nutritional health, sensory experience, culture and social relationships. This positive view was challenged by an alternative Discourse where meat was threatening to health, sensory experience and psychological comfort, but this was not strong enough to affect centrality. Even when participants sought to promote the health advantages of reducing meat consumption, the dominant centrality Discourse was strengthened. This implies that the possible tension between physical and psychosocial/emotional health can make the benefits of a reduction difficult both to convey and accept. A form of critical food literacy may help teachers deconstruct the arbitrary power of the centrality Discourse, but it may also strengthen meat-eater identities because the social norms that guide food choice become salient. A redesign of Discourses might facilitate a reduction in meat consumption, but such a paradigm shift is dependent on the development of society as a whole, and can only be briefly touched upon within the limited timeframes and resources of Home and Consumer Studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2015
Keyword
Home economics, Health education, Discourse analysis, Critical food literacy
National Category
Sociology Nutrition and Dietetics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-109298 (URN)10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.015 (DOI)000362917400013 ()26145271 (PubMedID)
Available from: 2015-09-24 Created: 2015-09-24 Last updated: 2016-11-28Bibliographically approved
3. Absence, deviance and unattainable ideals: Discourses on vegetarianism in the Swedish school subject Home and Consumer Studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Absence, deviance and unattainable ideals: Discourses on vegetarianism in the Swedish school subject Home and Consumer Studies
Show others...
2016 (English)In: Health Education Journal, ISSN 0017-8969, E-ISSN 1748-8176, Vol. 75, no 6, 676-688 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Objective: This study aimed to describe Discourses on vegetarian food in the Swedish school subject Home and Consumer Studies. Design: The study involved the observation of naturally occurring classroom talk, with audio recording and in some cases video-taping. Setting: The study was conducted during Home and Consumer Studies lessons in five different northern Swedish schools. Method: Fifty-nine students and five teachers were observed, recorded and in some cases video-taped. The resulting data were analysed with a focus on big 'D' Discourses. Results: Results indicated that gendered Discourses of absence, deviance and unattainability restricted some students' access to vegetarian food. The absence of meat was constructed as simultaneously healthy and unhealthy, a lack of cultural familiarity with vegetarian cooking made finding recipes difficult and students perceived the loss of taste as very negative. The vegetarian was seen as deviant, with vegetarianism being conceptually equated with sickness. Access to meat-free food required a commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle, and this was seen as a sacrifice and as too much work, not only for the individual but also for others. Conclusion: To counteract the restricted access to vegetarian food, Home and Consumer Studies teachers can redesign activities in the subject with the help of critical food literacy. For example, cooking could focus on popular plant-based dishes instead of 'empty' vegetarian themes, all students could be allowed to share vegetarian dishes instead of reserving them for vegetarians, the possibly strict rules of vegetarianism could be relaxed for those who do not wish to commit to them and vegetarian food could be deliberately connected to strength and masculinity. However, this presupposes sufficient economic resources and ample food storage space.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2016
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-114075 (URN)10.1177/0017896915611923 (DOI)000383212200004 ()
Available from: 2016-01-12 Created: 2016-01-12 Last updated: 2016-11-28Bibliographically approved
4. “You’re a sugar addict!”: – Sweetness and Health in Home and Consumer Studies
Open this publication in new window or tab >>“You’re a sugar addict!”: – Sweetness and Health in Home and Consumer Studies
(English)Article in journal (Other academic) Submitted
Abstract [en]

Because of possible contradictions between physical and psychosocial health, sweet foods can create social tension in home economics. To explore this tension, we observed 59 students and five teachers during 26 lessons. Discourse analysis of naturally occurring talk indicated four big ‘D’ Discourses about sweet foods, namely the coveted treasure, the superiority of the homemade, danger/disgust and the unnecessary extra. The treasure Discourse could spark conflict because of demands on extreme fairness or perfect results. It could also be used to mark both good and bad relationships. The unnecessary extra, home-made and danger/disgust Discourses could be used to stigmatize others and mark superiority. There was also a risk of demonizing sweet foods without offering realistic alternatives. To avoid this, teachers can a) tone down the focus on results, b) make sure students share their sweet foods with everyone, c) balance the negative aspects of simple carbohydrates with a more holistic, psychosocial view of the role of sugar in the human diet, and d) give the students concrete tools to create healthy snacks.

Keyword
discourse analysis, cfritical food literacy, home and consumer studies, food sociology, social health
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Food and Nutrition
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-128175 (URN)
Available from: 2016-11-28 Created: 2016-11-28 Last updated: 2016-11-28

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