"In Today's Market, Your Food Chooses You": News Media Constructions of Responsibility for Health through Home Cooking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines North American national news media's 2015-16 presentation of family meals. Analyzing 326 articles, I identify the ubiquity of a narrative of deterioration, or the presumption that families are replacing meals made from whole, unprocessed ingredients consumed communally around a table, with processed and pre-prepared foods eaten alone or "on the go". In analyzing the construction of responsibility for this deterioration, I find that the sample predominately frames the production of healthy family meals as constrained by a food environment saturated with inexpensive, highly processed food, and dictated by the competing demands of paid work and inflated normative standards. Yet, when differentiating frames that define the social problem from those that offer solutions, I find that individualization prevails in the frames that target solutions. One important exception is media reporting on low-income families, which are framed as facing exceptional structural constraint. Analyzing these frames, I argue that neoliberal ideology that over-emphasizes individual agency and minimizes structural constraint operates in more subtle ways than previous literature suggests-showing some awareness of the difficulty of people's lives, but prescribing solutions that leave individuals responsible for the outcomes. These findings offer implications for understanding dominant cultural values surrounding health and the family meal, as well as the allocation of responsibility for social problems within neoliberalism more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • consumption
  • family
  • food
  • health
  • neoliberalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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