Women's Food Practices, Risk and Responsibility: Constructing Healthy Food Through Lifestyle and Environmental Risks and Place

Barbara Parker

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

This thesis examines how women living in Wagga Wagga and the
Riverina region of Australia, and Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario,
Canada construct healthy and risky food through their everyday food
practices. Food choice is fraught with uncertainty as nutrition information
and food risks overlap with novel discourses about the environmental
impacts of food production. Achieving health is a central preoccupation of
contemporary health-risk societies and food practices are a principle means
to this end. Women, through their role as health guardians, are accountable
for food practices because of the gendered responsibility they have for the
health of others. Through consideration of intersectionality, which includes
life course in conjunction with place, I examine the social meanings
participants attribute to healthy and risky food as they navigate global and
local food systems.

My findings demonstrate that participants’ constructions of lifestyle
and environmental risk intersect with food choice while at the same time,
shape subjectivities and identities. Participants understand the lifestyle risks
that stem from well-known public health nutrition discourses and novel
nutritionism ideology, which prescribe strong dietary advice. Emerging
discourses about industrialized food production, which are constructed
through place or where one lives, however, complicates these lifestyle
health risks. To make sense of these shifting meanings, I introduce the
concept of food integrity to account for wider food politics of environmental
risk in the current global-local food system as these are negotiated through health and risk, central public health strategies of governance in
contemporary western society. It is through participants’ constructions of lifestyle and environmental risks relating to food choice that we are able to
uncover how matters of food production overlap with decisions about food
consumption, or what to eat in women’s everyday food practices.

I demonstrate that women’s assessment of healthy and risky foods
take into account environmental risks relating to food production, which
overlaps with their consideration of lifestyle risks and novel nutritionism
discourses. Thus, participants’ constructions of health and good nutrition
are reoriented through their understanding of food integrity and the specific
socio-cultural meanings inferred through place on particular food risks.
Moreover, participants assume individual responsibility for the environment
through their food practices and intentionally make food choices that are
‘greener’ or better for the environment than those produced through the
dominant industrial food system. Notably, participant’s engagement with
these dynamic discourses produces unintended consequences, which serve
to differentiate eaters through the formation of new subjectivities and
identities such as the “ethical eater” for example.

The study draws primarily on qualitative data collected through indepth,
semi-structured interviews conducted with 64 women ranging in age
from twenty to eighty-four from Australia and Canada.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Alston, Margaret, Principal Supervisor
  • Bell, Karen, Co-Supervisor
Award date27 Jul 2012
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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