Research Projects

Cooking for One: Examining Social Connectedness and Isolation through Household Foodwork

A central way that household foodwork (i.e., meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping) is given meaning is through its connections to others. Sharing food with others is crucial to how we define “good eating,” and food is an important way that people build bonds, express love, and connect to one another. But what happens when foodwork is removed from this fundamental frame? How is foodwork given meaning and performed when it is largely conducted alone? And what are the implications of this food provisioning context for people’s health and wellbeing? This project explores questions such as these through an investigation into the food meanings, values, and practices of people who live alone. We are doing so by combining a qualitative study using interviews, photo-voice, and food diary exercises, with a national survey of people living alone, and community-based asset mapping workshops. These understandings are important, in part, because living alone is a progressively dominant feature of modern life and people who live alone are at heightened risk for poor nutrition; yet this population has also been overlooked by nutrition research, policy, and practice – which focus heavily on families – leading to gaps in both knowledge and support to help mitigate these challenges and their associated nutrition outcomes. Our project works to help fill these gaps, and in doing so learn more about the role food plays in social relationships and connectedness, as well as how those relationships impact dietary health. 

This project cross-cuts the fields of sociology, family and relationship science, information science, nutrition, and agricultural economics. Drs. Brenna Ellison, Melissa Ocepek, and Melissa Pflugh-Prescott are all co-investigators.

Preliminary findings from our qualitative research are available here (May 2022)

Family Foodwork

Dr. Oleschuk has an extensive history studying family foodwork and home-cooked family meals including the cultural ideals and expectations around them, as well as how those ideals are navigated by diverse parents. She has studied the relationships between more macro-level public discourses and micro-level practices surrounding family foodwork to understand how they both reflect and shape inequalities in a variety of realms including gendered labor, economic disparities, health outcomes, and consumer politics. She has approached this research using multiple methods including a discourse and content analysis news media and qualitative interviews, cooking observations and food recall conversations with parents who are primary cooks in their families. The FED Lab has also explored public perceptions of family foodwork and food insecurity on Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced catastrophic impacts to almost all aspects of life, including to food systems, while casting renewed light on our relationships with others, and asking us to reconsider our responsibilities to our communities and to society’s most vulnerable. This research examines how people conceive of these changes in online social media forums.

Associated Projects

Towards the Development of Guidelines for Inclusive Foods in Long-Term Care

The FED lab is currently supporting a project led by Dr. Mina Raj, working to implement culturally inclusive foods into long term care (LTC) facilities. The goals of this project are to (1) assess LTC staff’s experiences with resident preferences for inclusive diets and identify the practice and regulatory barriers and facilitators to promoting inclusive and multicultural diets into LTC facilities; (2) identify key components and considerations for new guidelines for inclusive diets, and (3) develop guidelines for implementing inclusive diets into a subset of LTC facilities across Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Data for this project comes from focus group interviews with LTC staff, a survey of dieticians and food service managers in the U.S., and an expert panel aimed at developing culturally inclusive guidelines to disseminate to a subset of LTC facilities.

The Cultural Politics of Meat Consumption

The FED lab is also involved in a project, led by Drs. Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann alongside Emily Huddart Kennedy, which seeks to understand North American consumers’ beliefs and practices around meat-eating in order to think about new possibilities for reducing meat consumption or consuming in more ethical and sustainable ways. This is a mixed-methods project that we are currently transforming into a book and draws from a discourse and content analysis of news stories and advertisements about meat, qualitative analyses of focus groups interviews with consumers, interviews with various actors involved in alternative meat production, and quantitative analysis of a national-level survey on meat consumption.