What are your research topics?
I investigate social relationships related to food and eating. I look at the notions of food and eating prevalent in our community. In other words, I don’t really study the nutritional qualities or healthiness of food, even though these themes are closely linked to our notions of ‘good food’.
My research is based on the premise that food is a mirror to who we are. What is important to us as individuals, members of a population group, or as a nation? How is our society structured and how has our eating shaped these structures? How are festivities or everyday life reflected in eating practices?
In my research, I have focused particularly on cultural taste. In connection with food, this is accompanied not only by sensory flavour factors, but also by a great deal of views that speak to social relations and social status as well as hobbyism and familiarity.
Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?
My research results expose societal power structures. I hope the results will help us critically examine both our relationship with food and, in general, what is considered ‘good’ or ‘proper’ eating.
Food production is supported by political decisions. What we eat in public catering, which food products end up on the shop shelves, or which are accessible to consumers in terms of price is not just a matter of coincidence.
Food magazines, cookbooks, lifestyle social media accounts, food programmes and other food imagery displayed in the media constitute a snapshot of our time. However, it is often mediated by certain cultural ‘gatekeepers’ or interest groups. In other words, it is not the only truth about what eating can be like.
Times of crisis are evident in our eating. Similarities to past crises, such as the wartime and recession, can also be seen in the food practices of recent crises. That is to say, food also connects across time and groups of people: comfort food is a part of the childhood food memories, and traditional recipes and the idea of what constitutes festive food remain fairly unchanged, even though different cultural flows bring new forms of food culture to the table. Ultimately, the key to food culture is social relationships: sharing food and gathering around the same table to eat turn nourishment precisely into food.
What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?
Food talk is a constant topic that inspires me even at this moment. Our appreciation and opinions are expressed in how, where and from what perspective food is talked about. The discussion on ‘proper’ eating has been ongoing for millennia, and the topic does not seem to be going away.
Changes in our society and everyday life are directly reflected in the meanings assigned to food. Food is a topic that is easily charged with values and that engenders heated debate. Following food discussions on social media platforms, in traditional media channels and, for that matter, at the restaurant table is extremely fascinating.
The food talk of so-called layman consumers and the language they use have also clearly become more professional over the decades. It clearly reflects the contemporary values emphasising openness and cultural omnivorousness.
Taru Lindblom is the Professor of Food Culture at the Faculty of Educational Sciences.