While an interest in the meaning of food consumption can be found across many of the chapters of this book, this chapter introduces some of the key frameworks in understanding these issues. The chapter focuses on the ways in which what we eat and how we eat relate to class cultures and identities, exploring how the foods we eat are not simply an expression of individual tastes but have a wider basis in class cultures and lifestyles. Tastes are not simply a reflection of our identity but work to construct our cultural identity: we may be what we eat, but what we eat also produces who we are (Bell and Valentine, 1997).
The concept of consumption is used in different ways in the social sciences. For example, while psychologists frequently equate food consumption with 'food intake' or what we eat, economists tend to equate consumption with purchase or what we buy (Steptoe et al., 1998; Warde and Martens, 1998a; Young et al., 1998). However, such approaches give only a partial picture of the range of practices that might be included in consuming food. Furthermore, by equating the foods we eat with the foods we choose, such approaches ignore the material, cultural and social constraints that might limit our 'freedom to choose' (Warde and Martens, 1998a).
In this chapter, we draw on approaches to consumption found within cultural studies and work on food consumption in sociology, anthropology and cultural geography. These disciplines share with cultural studies an interest in the way food consumption involves the production of meanings and identities. Furthermore, how we make use of food is a way of 'establishing relationships and social positions' (Clarke, 1997:154). For example, as we go on to explore in Chapter 8, the domestic consumption of food can be a means of producing the experience of family life and relationships within the family. Therefore, ways of understanding the wider processes involved in food consumption overlap with the concerns of critics such as Shaun Moores (1993 and 2000) and