A taste of inequality: Food's symbolic value across the socioeconomic spectrum

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Scholars commonly account for dietary disparities across socioeconomic status (SES) using structural explanations that highlight differences in individuals' wealth, income, or location. These explanations emphasize food's material value. But food also carries symbolic value. This article shows how food's symbolic value helps drive dietary disparities. In-depth interviews with 160 parents and adolescents and 80 hours of observations with four families demonstrate how a family's socioeconomic position in part shapes the meanings that parents attach to food. These differing meanings contribute to distinct feeding strategies across the socioeconomic spectrum: whereas low-SES parents use food to buffer against deprivation, high-SES parents provision food to fulfill classed values around health and parenting. The findings suggest that an understanding of how families' material circumstances shape food's symbolic value is critical to fully account for dietary differences across SES.




Fielding-Singh, P. (2017). A taste of inequality: Food’s symbolic value across the socioeconomic spectrum. Sociological Science, 4, 424–448. https://doi.org/10.15195/v4.a17

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