A cultural analysis of what kids eat and why.
To understand what food reveals about the cultural and economic factors of young peoples’ lives, Best (Sociology/George Mason Univ.; Fast Cars, Cool Rides: The Accelerating World of Youth and Their Cars, 2005, etc.) observed young people in urban and suburban school cafeterias and nearby fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Chipotle. She also gathered information from ethnically and economically diverse young people about family meals and interviewed adults working in the food system. In her examination of youth food consumption, the author deals with a host of unexpected tensions and complexities. In the first chapter, she focuses on food and family life, followed by a few chapters on the school cafeteria setting, with all its social inequalities, and a chapter on behaviors in commercial settings. Best reports that school food “holds little if any sacred value" and that understanding commercial fast-food consumption “requires attention to the role and relevance of social-spatial relations.” There is a nod to the problems of childhood obesity, but solutions are not the author’s forte. As with her earlier youth studies—Prom Night and Fast Cars, Cool Rides—the title suggests a work for general readers, but this is a densely written study aimed at sociologists. In the language of a practicing ethnographer, Best writes in her introduction that this work is an “attempt to demonstrate the value of cultural analysis...and to make a case for what greater attention to culture, with its focus on collective meaning, schemes of value, symbolic action, and social interaction, yields for health policy and public decision making.” For her fellow researchers, Best includes an appendix explaining the methods she used in her study.
The book may be useful for sociology teachers and students, but general readers and policymakers will find this tough to digest.