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Consuming the Family Meal: News Media Constructions of Home Cooking and Health

Sun, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512F


Drawing from contemporary interest in Cultural Sociology on the relationship between cultural values and meaning in action (Pugh 2013; Swidler 1986; 2001; 2008; Vaisey 2008; 2009), this article sets out to investigate the shared cultural values surrounding home cooking, particularly within the context where home cooking is advocated as an important health promoting practice (e.g. Pollan 2013). To this end, this paper discusses findings from a discourse analysis of North American news reporting on home cooking and health in 2015 and 2016. It confirms that home cooking remains a ubiquitous ideal – a way to foster physically healthy, well socialized, and emotionally nurtured individuals – and is juxtaposed with fast and processed food consumption that is stigmatized. This image of healthy family food consumption is problematic (if well intentioned) because it perpetuates the stigmatization of families who cannot live up to its ideal and generates guilt and anxiety for parents constantly battling the threat of failure. News media reflects these anxieties, but still reproduces a Neoliberal rhetoric of choice that deploys failure as a starting point from which parents can (and should) improve, with the advice of experts featured in that reporting. It also reproduces social inequalities by presenting the work of producing healthy, home cooked meals as implicitly feminine, similarly achievable across class, and distinct from ethno-cultural consumption considerations. These findings are important because the framing of domestic food consumption in public discourse serves to naturalize inequalities embedded within it that obscure the stratification of consumption choices and health outcomes.