The changing practice of eating: Evidence from UK time diaries, 1975 and 20001

Shu Li Cheng, Wendy Olsen, Dale Southerton*, Alan Warde

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines some central themes about change in consumption behaviour through an empirical investigation of the practice of eating. It analyses patterns of food consumption in the UK using time diary data from 1975 and 2000. The practice of eating is decomposed into four component activities which are used to explore systematically the inter-relationships between social processes - such as commodification and temporal fragmentation - and ways of providing and consuming food. It charts the expansion of eating out, the degree to which it substitutes for other eating activities, and the implications of its development for social relations and the temporal organization of daily life. Analysis reveals that food consumption continues to be differentiated along established lines of social division, although the content of those divisions has changed and varies across components of the practice. Increasing commodification of the food chain is documented, but without appearing to have a corrosive impact on household organization or social relationships. While tendencies indicative of temporal fragmentation are revealed, counter-tendencies exist which suggest that the practice of eating is resilient to many forms of external pressure. Finally, the application of a practice-based analytical approach permits critical evaluation of theories of social transformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-61
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007


  • Commodification
  • Consumption
  • Drinking
  • Eating
  • Practice
  • Social differentiation
  • Time


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