The Household Meals Project: Feeding Power

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Lindquist, Carol Shepherd
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The Household Meals Project (HMP) looks at the division of food-related chores (shopping, putting supplies away, food preparation, cleaning up, garbage, and recycling) in 150 middle-class households in suburban and urban New York. The mixed-methods study employs quantitative, qualitative and visual (photographic) data. Issues focused on include: the micro-sociological dynamics of power and accommodation within households; how the praxis of household food chores serves as a distinct power base for women, and one that is transmitted inter-generationally as a vital component of female identity; how the cultural territory of domestic food practices serves as a site where social change is both produced and resisted, often simultaneously; and identification of several socio-historical trends in the U.S. over the last century which have acted to increase the gender imbalance in domestic food work, even as paid work and other domestic labor have moved toward gender equality. These issues all stem from a seemingly simple question: What factors lie behind the continuation of female responsibility for the majority of food-related chores in dual-headed households? Among the findings: both women and men tend to see the praxis of food chores as a health-related, emotionally freighted vocational discipline---an unpaid job particularly geared toward women that engages the work ethic traditionally associated with paid employment---rather than as a neutral set of tasks that can be done equally well by anyone. In addition, a comparison of chore-specific data from a 1980s study with the HMP’'s data reveals identifiable change in who does the work, while still maintaining female-dominated “ownership” of these responsibilities. This work explores how the combination of personal expectations and experiences, larger social trends, and the physical setting of kitchens influence and shape the daily fulfillment of food-related responsibilities. Through this synthesis, it becomes clear that the food-related home environment---conscious, unconscious, physical, and symbolic---serves as a source of both social stability and instability as it reflects and generates social change. Far from a passive repository of private practices, household meals are seen to be a potent force in cultural, political, and economic life.
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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