I am currently writing an e-book to support women in understanding their relationship with food and cultivating a kinder, more curious relationship with their bodies. During my research I came across this short reflection I wrote while studying the sociology and psychology of food choice. It reminded me of the many layers surrounding why we eat the way we do. I start the book by stating, ‘We would like to believe that we have freedom over what we eat – we don’t. Let me caveat that statement unless you have consciously taken the time to reflect on your experiences and influences, explored your why’s on how you make food choices and rewritten your food and health story – you don’t.’ I encourage you to use this short reflection piece to raise your curiosity and as a source of inspiration to begin to explore how your childhood may have influenced (or still does) the way you eat and how you accept and love your body.
Who knew that at six years old when Nonna served me a bowl of cornflakes smothered in sugar at midnight after we got home from the wedding where we had just eaten enough food to feed a village in remote Africa, it would be a reference point in a university assignment, impact my future health and begin to define my relationship with food. This reflection is an exploration of culture, economics and the mood of the moment that has and does define my food and health choices.
Growing up in an Italian migrant family where food was central to everything, with something always simmering on the stove and turning golden in the oven it was difficult to escape the smells, tastes and community that surrounded the kitchen table. This food-family example has had a strong influence on how I raised my children, eating meals together, choosing from the buffet of dishes in the centre of the table. Mostly home-cooked, from the garden from scratch. An abundance of food is a sign of prosperity; eating together is when joyful conversations take place. Hard conversations happen over a short black coffee and a piece of cake. These examples form the foundations of all my emotional eating. The perception of abundance through good quality food and the fear of not enough food, well for me that is a mortal sin. As Germov and Williams (1999) suggests, the potent symbolism and connection of food with key social events, is highly evident in my lifestyle and personal association with food and hospitality.
Upon considering the sociological imagination template, I see how it fits into my current food and dietary behaviours. With an intermingling of culture and history and a personal review of sociological vision (Germov & Williams, 1999) has all offered a more in-depth insight as to why I make the choices I make. For my grandparents migrating to Australia to have a better life financially and socially meant that there could not be lack and there was a level of importance for things to be new and in abundance. The traditions of their farm life were cloned in the suburban home garden with a presence of chickens and rabbits raised to eat — parcels of the garden cultivated into mini orchards of apple, lemon, and orange trees. Small plots used seasonally to grow vegetables, and strawberry bushes growing scattered amongst the rose bushes in the front and back yards. Today this would be seen as an incredible feat to be so self-sufficient, however at the time for my grandparents, it was simple economics, and nothing went to waste with there always enough for their family and friends. And although generally speaking one would attribute that low-income groups tend to consume unbalanced diets and in particular have low intakes of fruit and vegetables (Bellisle, 2005), my grandparents did not subscribe to this with their diet predominately plant-based. Through my readings I can see how that although my grandparents ate what would be considered a healthy diet, they were plagued with illness and died young, indicating there were other factors at play that determined their health outcomes. Understanding their life experiences, I would agree with the statement,
The health impact of social factors also is supported by the strong and widely observed associations between a wide range of health indicators and measures of individuals' socioeconomic resources or social position, typically income, educational attainment, or rank in an occupational hierarchy. Braveman and Gottlieb (2014)
The influence of my grandparents has and still does impact how I choose food and share food. What has surprised me is to know that this is a cultural, generational influence, going back farther than my grandparents. I acknowledge my ignorance in understanding the decisions I have made haven’t been my decisions at all, merely a group of unconscious learnt behaviours that have been made even though my education, socioeconomics, access to food and general lifestyle choices are incredibly different to that of my grandparents. This reflection has allowed me the expansion of awareness and understanding of why I make food choices and how much influence I can consciously have, with personal health behaviours. I still consider myself to be fortunate that although all my grandparents could afford was what they had in the garden, that when I go shopping, what is in my trolley reflects the whole food that I grew up on. It would appear to me that family culture has had the strongest impact on how I choose to eat even though I have benefited from being on the higher side of socioeconomics and education with the privilege and access to more holistic choices. Regardless, some things stick, and no one ever leaves my home without a plate of food.
I hope you enjoyed this piece. It offers me some nostalgia for the time with my grandparents as a little girl and how that still influences my food choices. However, their influence is a far cry from the influences of dieting and restriction that occurred during my tween and teen years. I share more of that in the book! Stay posted for its release.
As always, remember your reasons, your health, your mission, and the people you love.
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Bellisle, France, (2005). The Determinants of Food Choice, European Food Information Council (EUFIC)
Braveman, P., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The Social Determinants of Health: It’s Time to Consider the Causes of the Causes. Public Health Reports, 129(1_suppl2), 19-31. https://doi.org/10.1177/00333549141291S206
Germov, J. & Williams, L. (Eds.). (1999). A sociology of food and nutrition: the social appetite (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press
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