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Obesity, tastes and consumption: integrating eating norms and social membership.

How people integrate prescriptive eating and corpulence norms is analyzed on the basis of 85 semi-directive interviews of persons residing in France and in connection with Halbwachs’ studies of consumption. The article presents the factors involved in integrating prescriptions and shows the maintenance of a strong social hierarchy characterized by an opposition between privileged social categories and modest ones. It also brings to light social inequalities with regard to norm construction, and the complexity of the intermediate echelons, torn between submission to normative pressure and a kind of “popular” reaction against those norms. Debating Bourdieu’s analyses, it shows that members of privileged categories are subjected to healthy-eating imperatives that involve what may be called a “taste for necessity”, wherein constraints are generated by moral rather than economic imperatives, whereas members of more modest social categories are now expressing a “taste for freedom” in the way they eat, a “taste” from which health concerns are absent. This reading of the social order by way of consumption practices is then enriched by reference to Halbwachs’ studies: norm production and integration capability are revealing of social-class membership, and food consumption constitutes a space wherein class-specific tastes and identities are forged – tastes and identities with which current public health norms for eating may well collide.

Faustine Régnier
Ana Masullo
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