The origins of this book can be traced back to the mid-1980s when we first became aware of the curious fact that food and eating seemed to be topics for enthusiastic discussion for virtually everyone but the sociologist. This realization led us to begin a search for any sociologically relevant material that could satisfy our curiosity. We then went a step further by initiating our own research into the fascinating subject of vegetarianism, a choice of research area which was made in order to give us access to respondents who had critically examined much of our conventional wisdom about the day-to-day realities of eating. Grappling with the problem of explaining our findings helped us to clarify our understanding of what a sociology of food and eating might look like.
Happily, we were not alone in identifying an area of potentially fruitful expansion in sociology. The amount of research and writing in this field began to increase to such an extent that by the early 1990s we felt confident enough to offer an undergraduate course entitled ‘Food and Society: Sociological Perspectives’. It is that course which provided the foundations of this book and helped us to identify the themes which we have sought to develop and illustrate.
Many people have provided assistance, both direct and indirect, in the preparation of this text. In particular, we would like to express our appreciation of the interest shown in our work by Alan Bryman, Nick Norgan and Alan Radley, and of the help provided by Frank Parry of the University’s Pilkington Library. Special thanks must also go to those colleagues with whom we have worked in the context of a series of food- and nutrition-related projects, namely, Barbara Dobson, Jackie Goode, Cheryl Haslam, Marie Kennedy, Emma Sherratt and Robert Walker. We have benefited enormously from our discussions with them and from their insight and expertise. However, any shortcomings and inadequacies are entirely our own responsibility. The smooth progress of this whole project has also depended heavily on the invaluable secretarial support provided by Ann Smith, and additionally by Christine Mosley.
Alan Beardsworth and Teresa Keil