The last twenty years have seen a burgeoning of social scientific and historical research on food. The field has drawn in experts to investigate topics such as the way globalisation affects the food supply; what cookery books can (and cannot) tell us; changing understandings of famine; the social meanings of meals – and many more. Now sufficiently extensive to require a critical overview, The Handbook of Food Research is the first specially commissioned set of essays to provide a tour d’horizon of this broad range of topics and disciplines. Reviewed by Ellen J. Helsper.

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Zhi Hui Pao (Mandarin LN240, teacher Lijing Shias part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

The Handbook of Food Research. Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco and Peter Jackson (eds). Bloomsbury Academic. 2013.

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Eating is rational; a basic, survival-based need. We quite literally cannot live without food. But food is more than fuel; we have emotional and symbolic relationships with producing, buying, eating and sharing food. Eating is part of how we relate to others, a shared experience, interwoven with daily family and communal rituals. Therefore, what lands on our plates and ends up in our bellies is subject to economic, social, political and personal struggles.

The Handbook of Food Research covers the whole spectrum of research related to food production, distribution and consumption and is aimed at a broad audience. Here, I will focus on the two chapters of the book that discuss the mediated aspects of food consumption: Chapter 14 ‘Food Marketing’ written by Lien and Jacobsen, and Chapter 24 ‘Food Representation and Consumption’ by Dickinson. Both are written in a very accessible manner, covering varied research into mediated food consumption but lacking some of the more standard insights from traditional media research.

The chapters discuss the academic debates around the effectiveness of messages in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviours around food consumption in positive or negative ways, pointing out that this research largely follows the cause and effects and persuasion traditions common in psychological and health behaviour change studies. The bulk examines unhealthy food marketing and media representations, especially in relation to children, and there is some evidence that marketing has a short term impact. Evidence and research is harder to come by for social marketing (i.e. using media messages to change behaviour for the public good). The authors argue that this is unsurprising because the unhealthy food industries’ budgets are far larger than that of those involved in social marketing. Therefore, there is both more unhealthy food marketing and more funds for research in this area than in social food marketing. For both media practices the evidence is contradictory; in a really complex multi-media landscape they show weak short term and rarely long term effects on eating patterns. Surprisingly, in the book digital media are ignored. These might be an important site for opinion leaders and influential others to counter the commercial messaging produced by marketeers and mainstream media.

The authors are critical of a focus on cause and effects in food marketing and representation research, and argue for a broader critical cultural studies perspective. Since in the Western world there is an abundance of food and raw food ‘products’ are very similar, marketing and media representations are the one way to distinguish them from one another. Lien and Jacobsen argue that we need to ask how media construct food and the wider world around us, as “food marketing brings together producer and consumer[and] in doing so, food marketing changes the way we gain access to food, the way we eat, and the way we think about the way we eat” (p. 271). Dickinson talks about the “…definitional struggles between scientists and medical experts, public policy officials and pressure groups over the way the underlying issues of food and risks should be understood and presented in the media” (p. 449).

Another critique of mediated food consumption research is that it does not foreground the inequalities and values in the production of food and mediated food messaging. The authors make a plea to refocus research on producers of food-related marketing and representations in the context of a food system that is deeply unjust, rendering millions of people undernourished and about a billion people overweight. Their Bourdieuian approach highlights that mediated food consumption functions to reproduce (elite) practices, meanings and values of an increasingly commercialised, homogenous and unequal world.

Image Credit: (cfarivar CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The call for a shift away from pure cause and effects paradigms also highlights related methodological gaps in mediated food consumption research. The authors rightly point out that the use of quantitative, individualist methodologies such as content analysis and experiments boils mediated food consumption down to simple processes of sender– message – receiver. Ignoring more contextual theorisations of media and communications research which link it to a myriad of societal factors. Nevertheless, what is lacking in these chapters and in most research around food marketing and representation is a sense of the historical and social everyday positioning of the ‘audience’. Audience research emphasises the diversified nature of the audience, the idea of agency and the multiple possibilities of the interpretation of media texts.

A further vital element is missing from their discussion of mediated food consumption. The authors discuss production, messaging, and the (lack of) evidence for subsequent attitude and behaviour change without addressing what comes between attitude formation and actual eating.  Purchasing takes place in physical locations very different from purchasing settings used in research. Another significant barrier is habit formation around product purchases and food consumption. Brand loyalty and, more importantly, the influence of parenting and family environments on behaviour patterns are very strong for habitual consumption. Dietary patterns are established during childhood and are very difficult to change, influenced by family habits more than by marketing. We largely eat what we eat because we ate it yesterday, because we ate it last year, because it is what ate growing up. Instant, impulse purchases are easier to influence than general eating habits around habitual breakfast, lunch and dinner practices. However, even these short term effects have to be understood as limited by barriers in the immediate context of purchasing and consumption and an individual’s socio-demographic, cultural and psychological characteristics which mess up potential universal effects of media on food consumption.

In summary, the problem with cause and effects, cultural studies and political-economy approaches to mediated food consumption research is that our eating practices are strongly habitual and situational. We eat not just for nutritional reasons or because a media message or producer tells us to; eating is an emotional, social, and nostalgic everyday practice embedded in a myriad of other health and media related behaviours.


Dr Ellen J. Helsper is Associate Professor in Media and Communications at the LSE. Her current research interests include the links between digital and social exclusion; mediated interpersonal communication; and quantitative and qualitative methodological developments in media research. While she was working on her PhD she did consultancy work for OSSWatch (Oxford University), Ofcom, the BBC and Plan International, which included reports on the impact of food advertising material on young people. Read more reviews by Ellen.


Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


书评:《食品研究手册》 Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco and Peter Jackson. Bloomsbury Academic. 2013.

Review translated by Zhi Hui Pao (Mandarin LN240, teacher Lijing Shi).

进食是理智的选择,是人类 生存的基本需求。我们每一个人都无法在不进食的情况下生存。然而,食物不仅仅是能量;,生产、购买、进食和分享食物与我们有着情感与形式的关联。进食是我们如何与其他人建立联系, 是一种分享的体验、交织在家庭日常的习惯和公共场合的各种仪节中。正因如此,

这本《食品研究手册》涵盖了食品生产,分销和消费的所有研究领域; 面向广大读者。在此,我会关注书种讨论食品消费介导方面的两篇文章:由李恩和雅各布森所写的第十四章《食品营销》和由迪金森所写的第二十四章《食品代理和消费》。这两章简明易懂, 同时涵盖了“介导食物消费 mediated food consumption” 的各种研究,但可惜的是,它们没有纳入传统媒体研究中的更标准的看法。

这些章节讨论了信息如何改变人们对食物消费态度与行为的有效性的学术辩论。人们会以积极或消极的方式改变他们对食物消费的态度与行为?同时也指出了这项研究大多是依据心理和健康行为变化研究中所常见的原因、效果和传统说法。他们探讨了不健康食品,特别是针对儿童的营销和媒体代理。此外,有一些证据显示营销对其有着短期影响。社会营销难以获得证据和研究,例如:使用媒体消息来改变对公共物品的态度。作者认为这并不足为奇,因为不健康食品工业在社会营销方面的预算与其他工业的预算的差别简直就是天壤之别。因此,不健康食品的营销和研究资金都比社会食品营销来得多。这两个媒体实践的证据是对立的,在这个复杂的多媒体时代,研究显示,饮食模式有着微弱的短期影响,基本上没有什么长期影响。然而数字媒体出乎意料地被排除在外。这些都有可能是让意见领袖和有影响力的人反驳商人与主流媒体所流放的商业信息的重要地带。

作者针对性地批评在食品营销和代表性研究方面的原因与影响。她也为更广泛严格的文化研究视角提起了争论。在西方的世界,有很多的食品与生食品大致上都很相似,因此营销与媒体的代表是唯一能区分食品和生食品的分别。Lien和Jacobsen争议着我们因该询问媒体是如何构建我们周围的食物和这广泛的世界,因为食物营销使生产者和消费者聚集在一起。食物营销改变了我们获取食物的方式,我们食用食物的方法和我们对待我们食用食物的想法(271页) 。Dickinson也讨论了有关于‘。。。科学家与医学专家、政府政策官员和大众团体之间,在一定程度上,对粮食和风险这些基本问题应被媒体理解和提出的定义争论。”(449页)

另外,对介导食物消费研究的批判也是有关于它并没有对生产食品和中介食品信息传播中所产生的不平等和价值观提出前提。作者请求再重新关注在食品系统的背景下与食品相关的营销和陈述的生产者的研究。因为在食品系统的背景下,有着极不公平的事件,这使得数百万人营养不良,也导致了10亿人超重。他们所使用的布尔迪厄方法突出了中介食物的消费能够再重现在这日益商业化,同质和不平等世界的实践,意义与价值。

Image Credit: (cfarivar CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

此外,呼吁改变纯因果关系范式也突出了在中介食物消费研究中的相关方法学的差异。作者正确地指出使用定量和个人主义方法例如内容分析和实验,将食物消费归结起来为发送者-消息-接受者的简单过程。这忽略了更多能把它连接到无数社会因素的媒体和通信研究的语境伦理。但是,这些文章和大多的食品销售与代表研究中缺乏了‘民众’的历史和在社会的日常定位。民众研究强调了民众的多元化性质,代理的想法和媒体文本解释的多种可能性。

不仅如此,中介食品消费的讨论还缺乏另一个重要的因素。作者讨论了生产,消息传递和(缺乏)随之的态度与行为变化的证据,但作者却并没发表态度的形成和实际饮食之间的内容。发生在现实生活的采购与研究中所使用的采购设置有很大的不同。另一个重要的障碍是关于购买产品和食物消费的习惯。品牌忠诚度,最重要的莫过于因父母和家庭环境导致的行为模式对消费习惯有着很强大的影响。要改变从小就形成的饮食方式是非常困难的,这大多是受家庭习惯影响而并不是因营销而改变的。我们大多食用的食品都是因为我们曾食用过和让我们成长的食物。因此,影响冲动购买力比起一般在早午晚餐中的饮食习惯更来的容易。然而,这些短暂效应应该被理解为受限于购买和消费的困难,个人的社会人口,文化和心理特征。这些因素破坏了媒体对食品消费的潜在影响。

总而言之,中介食物消费研究的原因与影响、文化研究和文化经济学方法的问题来自于我们生根固蒂的习惯和与情况改变的饮食习惯。我们需要食用食物并不只是因为营养的因素或因为媒体消息和生产者告诉我们必须如此。进食是种情感,社会的,也是我们日常与健康和媒体相关的实践活动。

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