This chapter discusses the ways in which young British Asian women understand food and health to be related. In particular the focus is on how a synthesis is made between the understandings that are recognisably ‘western’ and those that are clearly related to the Ayurvedic tradition of the Indian subcontinent. Studies of understandings of health among the ethnic majority have described how medical orthodoxy and lay understandings of health cannot be clearly distinguished from one another (Davison et al. 1991). Individuals in a mass society hold opinions that are modified versions of those of the health agencies in wider society. Although traces of a system of beliefs about health that pre-date current medical orthodoxy can be found (Helman 1990), lay populations generally show a thorough grasp of orthodox understandings of health and illness causation (Backett et al. 1994).
The special interest of young women of Punjabi origin for the study of how lay people conceptualise health is that they have been exposed to the medical orthodoxy of ‘healthy eating’ and they also have access to the folk beliefs of their forebears from the Indian subcontinent. A qualitative study of how women use the resources available to them in thinking about food and health illustrates the processes that occur when orthodox health messages are integrated with alternative models for considering food and health.
This chapter is based on a study in Glasgow with young women of Punjabi origin who were asked about foods they thought were good and bad for health. A sample of forty-seven women aged