Gender and Food - Gender Barriers and Food Consumption
Institutional Communication Service
6 December 2021
It is well known that gender stereotypes are present in many aspects of our daily lives, even when it comes to food and the behaviours that men and women adopt concerning its preparation. With her thesis "Gender and Food", Katharina Dölp, a recent graduate of the Master in Marketing and Transformative Economy of the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at USI, has analysed how far and how gender barriers influence food consumption patterns. The thesis also won the first ACSI Prize awarded during the graduation ceremony at USI.
We propose the interview with Katharina Dölp followed by the comment of the ACSI President Evelyne Battaglia-Richi.
Katharina Dölp, how did you choose the theme of your thesis? What is the purpose of your research?
During my first semester at USI, I learned a lot about gender differences in consumption in our class on “Consumer Vulnerability”. I then started reflecting about my own daily consumption behaviors and I realized that when it comes to food, there seem to be many gender stereotypes and norms. For example, I had been told that because I am female, I should consume smaller portions than men, or I had observed male colleagues and friends prefer meat over vegetarian dishes simply because they thought it was more “manly“. Also, while most of my female friends and family members cook regularly, only few of the males do so. I then got very curious whether what I had observed in my own life also happens in a larger context and what are the reasons for such gendered food behaviors. After reading a lot into the topic, I decided that I want to dedicate my master’s thesis to this issue - not only to deepen my own understanding of it, but also to highlight these disparities in an academic manner.
What is the situation regarding gender and food nowadays?
Through my literature research, I found that even nowadays there are large gender differences when it comes to cooking and eating. For example, in most Western countries, women contribute to cooking to a much larger extent than men. In many cases, this disparity arises from parental socialization: while girls are typically taught how to cook by their mothers, many boys are not, and thus they later lack the skills to cook. Likewise, children are told at an early age, what is “appropriate” for boys and girls to eat. Unfortunately, media and marketing then tend to contribute to this issue through stereotypical gender portrayals in TV shows, magazines and advertising. However, what can also be observed is that the rise of social media and “foodie culture” has brought more attention to the pleasures of cooking and eating, which has improved both mens’ and womens’ relationship with cooking and food consumption.
What are the conclusions of your thesis?
In my study, I found that while gender stereotypes still exist, the overall mindset is positive, meaning that people wish for an egalitarian division of cooking and for an appreciation of healthy eating, irrespective of one’s gender. This implies that prevalent gender differences around food behaviors are seemingly not rooted in personal convictions, but are likely caused by other external factors. Following prior scholarly work, such factors may be a lack of skills or knowledge, or simply inertia, that prevent individuals or couples from abandoning stereotypical gender roles and norms when it comes to food. As a consequence, policy makers and marketers alike should be encouraged to support individuals in overcoming these barriers to consequently break down outdated gender dichotomies around food.
How will the gender food phenomenon develop in the coming years?
While the results of my study already provide a promising outlook, we can also see such tendencies in a more general context. On the one hand, the global Covid pandemic has increased cooking among men in many countries around the globe, which has diminished gender differences when it comes to the division of cooking in families and relationships. Likewise, the worldwide situation has led to an increased health awareness, which intensified an appreciation of healthy eating irrespective of gender. On the other hand, scholars that particularly conducted their studies with millennials and generation Z have already claimed that gender differences around food are becoming more and more meaningless among these younger generations. This indicates that in the future, gender will likely not play an important role anymore when it comes to cooking and eating, but people will focus more on their individual well-being from food.
Evelyne Battaglia-Richi, this is the first time that the ACSI Prize has been awarded to a USI student. What does this prize consist of, and what motivated ACSI to establish this award at USI?
The award consists of a distinction endowed with 1000 francs. The Acsi prize was established to underline a good working relationship with the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at USI, which deals with topics of great interest to our association. The objective of the prize is to stimulate research on issues of consumerist interest and to have a more significant scientific basis that may be of assistance in the concrete activity of defending the interests of consumers in Southern Switzerland.
Concerning Katharina Dölp's thesis, what struck ACSI most in awarding the prize?
The thesis deals with a topic of undoubted interest for consumers: investigating whether and how gender barriers influence food consumption patterns and whether there are differences between men and women. We were struck in particular by the excellent scientific quality of the thesis, the original idea and the exciting result that shows in the new generations (albeit in a limited sample of the population and a particular historical period) a tendency to change behaviour towards a healthy eating pattern, regardless of gender. An aspect that seems to mark a crucial generational change in this area which, historically, was only a female prerogative. Acsi is also involved in spreading messages related to health promotion to create more awareness and skills in favour of consumers' healthy lifestyles. In this perspective, the thesis proposes interesting results.