Universitat Rovira i Virgili

The precariousness of daily life: food (in) security, gender and health.

Techincal Details

Name of the Project: The precariousness of daily life: food (in) security, gender and health.

Reference: CSO2016-74941-P


Principal Researcher: Dra. Mabel Gracia Arnaiz

Period: 2016 -2019

The aim of this project is to analyze the relationship between the precarization of everyday life, increasing food insecurity, and rising rates of obesity. Precarization is understood here as an economic and political process that is central in postindustrial societies and generates both uncertainty and opportunities. The starting hypothesis of the proposed research is that growing food precarization is a phenomenon embedded in this wider process of precarization and, as a result, becomes a source of conflicts and tensions. The difficulty of feeding ones family every day is both a reflection and a cause of uncertainties that limit quality of life, requiring constant changes in strategies and sources of food procurement. Because it is mainly women who procure and prepare food and distribute it to those in their domestic group, their everyday practices and their bodies are the most affected by the difficulties they face in doing so. With the foods available, women try to reproduce and/or create meals corresponding to culinary formulas that are gastro-nomic: culturally acceptable, palatable, and sustainable within their means; however, in trying to manage food in limited supply and of limited variety and quality, they engage in food practices that are more flexible but also gastro-anomic: of more questionable value for their health.

In view of this, the second hypothesis suggests that obesity, with a higher incidence among the lower socioeconomic classes and especially in women, is becoming a paradigmatic form of precarization. As precarious bodies of a particular type, obese women embody the effects of social inequality at the same time that they place in doubt the hegemonic discourses representing fat persons as sick persons who have brought their illness on themselves through eating too much and exercising too little: through lack of self-control and discipline. The proposed research is intended to shed light on the extent to which the demands that structure everyday life for women in sectors of society most affected by the economic crisis may alter their food practices the type and quantity of foods they consume, the frequency and scheduling of mealtimes, where they eat, and with whom and whether these changes may be linked to the increasing incidence of obesity and related health problems. Specifying this link would give us a better understanding of the causes and mechanisms of the paradoxical correlation between obesity and poverty, and this in turn would serve as the basis for a critique of medical and health policy discourses that give explanatory priority to individual irresponsibility and incorrect food choices, and design their interventions accordingly. This greater knowledge would help to enable a transformation in the preventive strategies adopted in Spain, which have been unsuccessful in bringing rising rates of obesity under control in part because they have failed to take into account both the particularities of gender, class and culture, and the wider context of austerity policies and their impact on everyday life.

Research team

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In the present context of austerity the question of what kinds of food people consume on a daily basis and in what circumstances, and what its health and social consequences are, urgently requires research that makes policy responses possible.