One of the most effective ways of assessing which topics or issues are generally regarded as fundamental to a given discipline is to survey the contents of that discipline’s standard introductory textbooks. In such hallowed volumes are enshrined, if only in their most basic form, those principles, theories and doctrines which are deemed essential for all recruits to master. However, scanning the contents pages of the wide range of introductory sociology texts available leads to an inevitable conclusion: alongside the themes which, in various guises, occur again and again (stratification, work and employment, crime and deviance, ethnicity, gender, the family, etc.) you will not come across food and eating as a specifically identified focus of interest. If such issues are addressed at all, they usually appear on the margins of one or more of the central themes.
In one sense, at least, this marginality is not too surprising. Quite clearly, it is feasible for sociologists with imagination and initiative to create an almost endless list of potentially fruitful sub-headings within their discipline (the sociology of housing, the sociology of sport, the sociology of transport, the sociology of tourism—or, more fancifully, why not the sociology of furniture, or the sociology of children’s games?). While such lines of intellectual pursuit may yield all kinds of fascinating insights, they are likely to remain relatively specialized interests, coexisting with each other and developing each along its own lines beneath the broad umbrella of sociology. Much the same might be said of the sociology of food and eating. Here we have a specialized area which deserves attention, but which is never likely to be of central importance. This is a perfectly viable position and one that allows interested teachers and researchers to get on with work in this area to the benefit of themselves, their students and their readers. On the other hand, we might argue that attempts to describe and understand the complex interrelations between food and society deserve special attention, deserve elevation to a position equal to that of the major themes of contemporary sociology. This view becomes eminently plausible if one considers