Around the world and across ethnic groups, food security greatly influences the meanings, values, and benefits a family associates with food. A family who has food security is able to obtain enough food to avoid hunger. As income rises, a smaller percent of the income is used for food. Families with lower incomes spend a higher proportion of their incomes on food. Throughout the world, more money is spent on food than on other categories of activities. Sometimes families experience food insecurity; for those families, the primary role of food becomes satisfying hunger.
Hunger has negative consequences for children, including anemia, developmental and behavioral problems, and learning difficulties. Under-nourished pregnant women are more likely to have low-birthweight infants who are more likely to experience health and behavior problems. Food insecurity also causes anxiety for parents and children.
Because food is connected with so many social benefits, families who face long-term food insecurity are likely to experience more than physical suffering. Social relationships may be impaired; verbal abilities developed through family mealtime interactions might be less developed; the opportunities to negotiate and compromise food choices may be fewer. Families who are not able to be hospitable may lose social status. Therefore, the impact of food insecurity has far-reaching social, emotional, and developmental consequences for families and children.
Food is part of everyone's life. It affects the structure of family schedules and enhances relationships among family members and between families. Food may be a mark of cultural and religious identity. Culture shapes families' food attitudes and behaviors, and families' needs, beliefs, and behaviors impact culture. Because food is an essential part of families' physical and social lives, examining its role in families helps us to understand families in the context of their cultures.
Birch, L. L. (1996). "Children's Food Acceptance Patterns." Nutrition Today 31(6):234-40.
Bossard, J. H. S. (1943). "Family Table Talk: An Area for Sociological Study." American Sociological Review 8:295–301.
Jansson, S. (1995). "Food Practices and Division of Domestic Labor: A Comparison between British and Swedish Households." Sociological Review 43:462–77.
Kaplan, E. B. (2000). "Using Food as a Metaphor for Care." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 29:474–509.
Kemmer, D.; Anderson, A. S.; and Marshall, D. W. (1998). "Living Together and Eating Together: Changes in Food Choice and Eating Habits during the Transition from Single to Married/Cohabiting." Sociological Review 46:48–72.
Kittler, P. G., and Sucher, K. P. (2001). Food and Culture, 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lupton, D. (2000). "'Where's Me Dinner?': Food Preparation Arrangements in Rural Australian Families." Journal of Sociology 36(2):172.
Lupton, D. (1994). "Food, Memory and Meaning: The Symbolic and Social Nature of Food Events." Sociological Review 42:664–85.
Quandt, S. A.; Vitolins, M. Z.; DeWalt, K. M.; and Roos, G. M. (1997). "Meal Patterns of Older Adults in Rural Communities: Life Course Analysis and Implications for Undernutrition." Journal of Applied Gerontology 16(2):152-71.
Shovic, A. C. (1994). "Development of a Samoan Nutrition Exchange List Using Culturally Accepted Foods." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 94(5):541-43.
Valentine, G. (1999). "Eating In: Home, Consumption and Identity." Sociological Review 47:491–524.
Yasmeen, G. (2000). "Not 'From Scratch': Thai Food Systems and 'Public Eating.'" Journal of Intercultural Studies 21(3):341-52.
American Dietetic Association. (2000). "Making the Most of Family Mealtime." Available from http://www.eatright.org/nfs/nfs0900.html.
RENEE A. OSCARSON