Home Health and Nutrition How the Other Half Eats

How the Other Half Eats
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Priya Fielding-Singh

How the Other Half Eats

How society influences our food choices

This book is the result of many years of research conducted by the author, Priya Fielding-Singh, during her PhD years at Stanford: everything she describes is real, and comes from data she collected personally. Her sources include interviews with 75 San Francisco Bay Area families from the widest social, economic, and cultural backgrounds, as well as influential figures in society with a key role in nutrition. Priya Fielding-Singh also shadowed several families over a long period of time in order to observe, up close, the factors that determined their food choices. Among the most significant discoveries was the direct link between American people's emotions, personal experience, and diet. The burden of food security rests entirely on the shoulders of individuals, and women in particular, while the state is de-empowered, and large corporations are free to push their own agendas, and to the overwhelming detriment of an entire population’s health.

How the Other Half Eats
Read in 16 min.
Listen in 20 min.

Food inequality in America is deeply rooted in cultural stereotypes and ideologies, which are difficult to eradicate

Individualism and meritocracy are deeply seated in American culture; as a result, all sorts of fortunate or unfortunate events are put down solely to individual responsibility. People are always held responsible for both their successes and failures, regardless of how privileged and easy, or disadvantaged and difficult, their background or personal history may be.

Most people’s views on parenting are strikingly similar, and this reinforces the belief that African Americans, Latinos, and poorer people in general, are less able to provide their children with a nutritious and balanced diet and sound education, not as a result of systemic or structural causes, but through personal fault or incompetence. The same cultural stereotypes also often lead us to believe that obesity is a problem that only affects certain social classes and ethnic groups, while healthy eating is a skill and cultural custom belonging only to white and, mostly wealthy, mothers. In reality, the problem of adolescent and childhood obesity is widespread all over America, and the entire population has alarmingly high rates of diseases related to poor nutrition.

This idea is also based on the ‘culture of poverty’, a theory first put forward by anthropologist Oscar Lewis in the 1960s. Lewis argued that poverty creates a set of beliefs, values, practices, and behaviours, which tend to perpetuate poverty itself, even when external conditions change. Other scholars have distorted and exploited this theory over the years, in order to reinforce their belief that disadvantaged people are responsible for their own poverty and hardships.

Black parents, or indeed any parents from economically or socially disadvantaged groups, have to fight against this ingrained opinion on a daily basis. Their permissive approach to food is almost always interpreted as poor child-rearing skills, and is used to foster the individualist stereotype, according to which everyone is responsible for their own misfortunes. When a white, wealthy mother indulges her child in the same way, it is seen as a sign of flexibility, as she is able to make an exception to her child’s otherwise strictly healthy diet, and is accepted as proof of her good parenting skills.


The key ideas of "How the Other Half Eats"

Food inequality in America is deeply rooted in cultural stereotypes and ideologies, which are difficult to eradicate
People’s eating habits are mainly determined by social, cultural, political, and economic factors, but emotions also play a key role
Food insecurity and the consequences of poor nutrition overwhelmingly and selectively affect only a certain section of the American population
Private economic interests of large multinational companies is decisive
The increasingly widespread ‘intensive mothering’ approach shifts the entire burden of raising children onto the parents, leaving them completely alone to face impossible challenges, which are beyond their control
The United States lacks the social support structures, public policies, and welfare systems necessary to ensure food security for all families, and especially, single-parent families, which are usually run by single mothers
Despite increasing awareness of which foods are unhealthy, and of the importance of good nutrition, certain factors still drive food choices in poorer households
Change and improvement are possible: some theories have already been put forward or experimented, but they need to be reinforced, as they clash with the strong individualism that defines American society
Take-home message
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