Adjusting Taste: Bodily Management and the Acceptance of Unfamiliar Foods in Three English Cities, 1995-2015

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Alan WARDE, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Jessica PADDOCK, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Jennifer WHILLANS, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Social acceptance and reputation require the manipulation of bodily techniques of many kinds, food consumption being one. The extent to which bodily management is a function of class position and possession of cultural capital is disputed. The balance of sociological opinion in recent decades is that their effects are diminishing but the evidence is far from overwhelming. In this paper we examine processes associated with the modification of culinary taste over two decades by analysing the changing acceptability of different manifestations of ‘ethnic’ cuisine. We draw on results from a re-study of eating out in three English cities. After a twenty year interval, in 2015, we administered a survey in London, Preston and Bristol, covering similar topics and asking mostly identically worded questions, and we also conducted follow-up in-depth interviews with some of the respondents. One clear trend is towards greater popularity of and familiarity with ethnic cuisine. In this paper we focus on how orientations towards novelty, possession of cultural capital and class trajectory jointly impact upon tastes for previously unfamiliar foods. Survey data chart the parameters of the social differentiation of taste for different cuisines and interviews capture the experience of the novel and the familiar, the pleasurable and the disgusting. The taste for ethnic cuisine is greatest among people with higher education and higher class position, with class differences becoming magnified in the period. We reflect on methodological and theoretical issues associated with carrying out a re-study, with the measurement of class, and with isolating the mechanisms behind changing tastes. We draw conclusions about the role of class differentiation in the socially and symbolically significant activity of exposing the body to new and unfamiliar experiences.