Meal Memories: Women Navigating Family Well-Being in Foodwork

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Background. Research on women’s experiences and perceptions of family foodwork remain under-explored. This paper emerged from grant-funded research that examined women’s perceptions and experiences as they relate to family meals.

Methods. Focus group data was collected from thirty-five women in Northeast Tennessee. Women ranged in age from 18-55 years and, combined, mothered 54 children, over half of whose ages ranged from 1-5 years. Discussion was facilitated by a semi-structured moderator guide that asked about: 1) family dinners while growing up; 2) family dinners with their own children and families; and 3) whether they were interested in their meal experiences being different in any way and if so, how.

Results. Emerging from the data was a major theme of memories of meals past. Such memories functioned as points of continuity and change for these women as they attended to family well-being through food labor. Both the women’s experiences growing up and the experiences of their partners functioned as access points for determining what constitutes not only “family meal,” but also “family” itself. Meal memories focused the women’s meal provision options by clarifying whether to reproduce family of origin practices, redirect them, or sever them.

Significance. As families are increasingly encouraged to focus on family meals as a primary parenting method for monitoring children and attending to their well-being, women are likely are likely to feel the weight of child and familial outcomes more than men and more than they have in the past fifty years.


Johnson City, TN

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