Fulfilling food practices: Applying the capability approach to ethnographic research in the Northern Netherlands

Sanne Siete Visser*, Hinke Haisma*

*Bijbehorende auteur voor dit werk

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

2 Citaten (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Often, food practices are evaluated in terms of their healthiness or lack thereof, but fulfilling food practices based on other values and influenced by family members' capabilities are overlooked. This study analyses food practices in families with low socio-economic status, and aims to explain how family households come to prioritise one food practice over another. We conducted an ethnographic study using the capability approach as an analytical framework. In-depth interviews and observations concerning food patterns and health-related choices with family members from three generations were analysed. Two dimensions of fulfilling food practices which emerged from our study are having a healthy as well as harmonious meal. The families under study tended to prioritise having harmonious meals over having healthy meals, despite the attempts by mothers to serve healthy meals. This choice can be understood from the perspective of capabilities, such as being able to enjoy meals, eating what everybody else eats in the region, avoiding conflicts, creating good relationships with children and serving and organising meals with ease. Within the cultural environment, there prevailed a tendency not to care too much about nutritional outcomes, which also supported the preference for harmonious over healthy meals. In the decision about whether to have a healthy or a harmonious meal, children's agency often outweighed the voices of parents and grandparents. The capability approach helped unravel the complexity of family food practices and the role of intergenerational family dynamics in a setting of low socio-economic status. Acknowledging the multi-dimensional nature of food practices, and including dimensions beyond the food domain, such as harmony at the dinner table, contribute to a better understanding of this complexity. It also helps to shed new light on opportunity deprivation in households, for example in relation to agency, which should be accounted for in health interventions.

Originele taal-2English
Aantal pagina's13
TijdschriftSocial Science & Medicine
Vroegere onlinedatum15-jan-2021
StatusPublished - mrt-2021

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