Warde, A. & Yates, L. (2017) Understanding Eating Events: Snacks and Meal Patterns in Great Britain, Food, Culture & Society, 20(1), pp. 15-36.


Sociological analysis of eating has for a long time tracked the fate of a popularly endorsed, idealized form of the “family” or “proper” meal. “Snacking” has often been constructed as its symbolic opposite, as irregular, anomic and unhealthy. This paper, based on data from a survey of eating patterns conducted in Great Britain in 2012 (n = 2,784), analyzes eating occasions which respondents stated were snacks rather than meals, focusing on their frequency, scheduling, contents, duration and social context. It finds that “snacks” are taken across all socio-demographic groups and take place in accordance with a common and predictable schedule. Snacks are smaller and less structured than most meals but mostly do not comprise what is generically described as “snack foods.” Snacks are shorter in duration, and less sociable than other eating events, reflecting their size, simplicity and informality. However, most are eaten in company, are planned for, and are wholesome. Common negative evaluations of eating between and outside meals have failed to appreciate the range and character of adjunct eating events, and the degree to which they form part of aggregate patterns and individual routines.

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