Special Session Summary Tales of Food and Eating


Eileen Fischer (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Tales of Food and Eating", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 483.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 483



Eileen Fischer, York University

Food is one of the products, if not the product, we most frequently consume. Eating is one of the few consumption activities we engage in virtually every day. Quality of food is integrally related to quality of life. Eating is a major preoccupation for those who love food, those who have ambivalent relationships to food, and those who would simply love to have enough food. Yet despite the ubiquitous nature of food and eating B or perhaps because of it B food and eating are topics that have singularly failed to capture the imagination of consumer researchers. To be sure, many consumer behavior scholars have used food products as the stimuli in experiments. But as these articles are written to test theories, the insights they offer about food and eating as a part of consumers’ lives are rarely highlighted. As one indication of this, it can be noted that in the entire 24 volumes of Journal of Consumer Research, only 11 articles have been indexed under "Nutrition" in the Subject Index. Neither "Food" nor "Eating" are included in the subject indices of JCR, even when other product categories (such as clothing) and other consumption activities (such as leisure and recreation) are routinely included.

Given that food and eating are ubiquitous parts of consumer’s lives, given the apparent damage caused to people’s lives by both too much and too little food and eating, and given the importance of food and eating to economies around the globe, it would seem appropriate that we consider food and eating as subjects worthy of investigation in their own right by consumer researchers. We have chosen to contribute to this project by adopting a multi-perspctival approach to help probe the ways that food, and the social practices of buying and consuming it, are culturally constituted and constitutive. As Brown and Mussell (1984, p. 13) have observed, food and eating may be a "nexus for the convergence of traditional disciplinary insights and methods." We believe, as Bell and Valentine (1997) argue, that examining the intersections between different ways of looking at food and eating can open up the "spaces between" perspectives and newer ways of thinking not only about food and eating, but perhaps about consumption more generally. Each paper moves beyond traditional nutritional perspectives on food and eating to understand how specific foods and eating practices are structured in particular contexts. A summary of each of the three papers in the session is outlined below.



Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah

Emotionally, psychologically, physically and socially, chocolate consumption in America is constructed as an extraordinary experience of an extraordinary product, involving extremes and excess in both positive and negative ways. Based on data collected in 84 interviews, 28 observations, and 2 focus groups, we explore experiences and perceptions of chocolate consumption. While some consumers associate chocolate with joy, delight, nostalgia, reward, indulgent self-gifting, social camaraderie, sensuality and sexuality, they also often feel guilty, sinful, decadent, weak and out-of-control, and see the product as addictive, harmful, unhealthy, or "evil." Social dimensions that affect these constructions, both historically and currently, include age, gender, and notions of class associated with elegance, luxury and indulgence.



Eileen Fischer, York University

Paul Wayne, York University

This study probes the tacit social rules which structure public food consumption and contrasts them with consumers’ explicit understandings of food and eating. Over 30 hours of observational data collected in public eating venues (food courts, restaurants, cafeterias, public gatherings) and 12 depth interviews are analyzed and interpreted to reveal patterns in both publicly observable behavior and emic understandings. The results suggest that social eating is shaped by tacit rules and objectives that differ from, and often conflict with, the understanding of food and eating that consumers express verbally. Implications of the research both for our understanding of food consumption and our understanding of other consumer behaviors are explored.



Ann Veeck, Western Michigan University

One of the most visible and treasured aspects of the economic reforms initiated in China in 1979 has been the greatly expanded selection of food for the urban consumer. The remarkable bounty of even the most ordinary market has led to a revived, near faddish, interest in the nutritional benefits of food choices. Based on ten months of field work in Nanjing, China, this study analyzes how nutritional perceptions affect food purchase patterns in urban China. It is found that food shoppers base their selection on a complex system of nutritional beliefs, with some of the basic tenets traceable through thousands of years of written Chinese history.


Bell, David and Gill Valentine (1997), Consuming Geographies, London: Routledge.

Brown, L. and K. Mussell (1984) Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press



Eileen Fischer, York University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26 | 1999

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