Tastes Political: An Interpretive Analysis of the Foodie Lifeworld in Contemporary New Zealand
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The aim of my research is to make sense of foodie activity in New Zealand, and locate that activity in the socio-cultural sphere – the foodie ‘lifeworld’ (Habermas, 1984). This research explores the foodie phenomenon and the ways that foodie activity intersects with lifestyle movements. The lifestyle movement is a contemporary form of social movement based in the kind of day-to-day lived experience that is informed by notions of principled consumption. My approach to the research is based in the interpretive paradigm: I sought to locate and unpack the layered meanings that foodies form about their food activities. I established two questions to guide the research. The first question investigates the underlying a priori purposes to foodie activity. The second investigates the intersection between local foodie practices and political movements. To begin I explore the literature in three subject areas. The first is food politics and the role of nostalgia in shaping belief about the food lifeworld. The second area of literature is New Zealand’s social and cultural history, including the evolution of the New Zealand culinary scene, an examination of utopian impulses in the creation of the country, and a review of the forms of activism that New Zealanders are familiar with and engage in. The third area of literature is social movement and subculture studies and the intersection of the two, which is an emerging area of scholarship. Drawing together these rich fields of scholarship assists in the framing of the foodie lifeworld and begins to answer the research questions. To complement the review of literature and gain an empirical understanding of the foodie lifeworld, I undertake semi-structured interviews with self-identifying foodies and thematically analyse the resulting data. The most significant of my findings is that foodies are participants in an emerging form of social movement, the ‘lifestyle movement’, which is located at the intersection of social movement and subcultural phenomena. Food is, for these foodies, about much more than taste. Rather, food is the site of three realms of behaviour: pleasure, thought, and care, based on their antecedent convictions about food and the responsibility they feel as politically engaged consumers. In contrast to previous research into foodies, the concept of distinction (Bourdieu, 1984) is barely present in the foodie lifeworld. Instead, foodies behave in ways that align with their values in relation to food. The foodies enact these values in their day-to-day lives. Furthermore, foodies have a heightened sense of the provenance of food and, in that respect, can be considered “situated eaters” (Leynse, 2006). In my discussion of the findings I describe foodiness as a quasi-religious meaning system (Brinkerhoff & Jacob, 1999) that features elements of religion, including faith and righteousness, humility, bounded liberty, and opportunities for salvation. And lastly, I draw a comparison between the lifeworld of the New Zealand foodie and the principles of the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th–early 20th century, and find that the foundations of each have much in common, including a utopian impulse and disinclination toward industrial processing.