The meal as a performance: food and meal practices beyond health and nutrition

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MARIA NYBERG, Viktoria Olsson, GERD ÖRTMAN, ZADA PAJALIC, HÅKAN S. ANDERSSON, ANNA BLÜCHER, ANN LOUISE LINDBORG, Karin Maria Elisabet Wendin, ALBERT WESTERGREN

The proportion of elderly people in the population is increasing, presenting a number of new challenges in society. The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate how elderly persons with motoric eating difficulties perceive and perform their food and meal practices in everyday life. By using Goffman's concept of performance as a theoretical framework together with Bourdieu's thinking on habitus, a deeper understanding of food and meal practices is obtained. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 elderly people (aged between 67 and 87 years) and meal observations were carried out with 11 of these people. Participants were found to manage food and meal practices by continuously adjusting and adapting to the new conditions arising as a result of eating difficulties. This was displayed by conscious planning of what to eat and when, avoiding certain foods and beverages, using simple eating aids, but also withdrawing socially during the meals. All these adjustments were important in order to be able to demonstrate proper food and meal behaviour, to maintain the façade and to act according to the perceived norms. As well as being a pleasurable event, food and meals were also perceived in terms of being important for maintaining health and as ‘fuel’ where the main purpose is to sustain life. This was strongly connected to the social context and the ability to enjoy food and meals with family members and friends, which appeared to be particularly crucial due to the impending risk of failing the meal performance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAgeing & Society
Volume38
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)83-107
Number of pages25
ISSN0144-686X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • eating aids, eating difficulties, elderly people, food and meal practices, independence, meals

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