Table Talk: How Mothers and Adolescents Across Socioeconomic Status Discuss Food

Social Science and Medicine

This article reports findings from a qualitative study of food practices among families of differing socioeconomic circumstances. Using in-depth interviews from sixty-two families in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015–2016, we find socioeconomic differences in how mothers and adolescents talk about food. Across SES, mothers and adolescents engage in discussions about healthy eating. However, these conversations are more commonplace and embedded within high-SES family life than among low-SES families. Beyond conversations about 1) healthy eating, the topics of 2) food quality and 3) price are discussed to varying degrees across SES. Within high-SES families, frequent discussions of healthy eating are paired with dialogue highlighting the importance of consuming higher quality food. Price is largely absent as a topic of conversation among high-SES families. On the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, low-SES mothers and adolescents frequently engage in conversations about price when discussing food. Mentions of food quality are rare, but when they do occur, they underscore important trade-offs between food's healthiness, quality and price. Given prior research showing the impact of dialogue between parents and adolescents on adolescents' dietary behaviors, these findings help us understand how family discussions contribute to shaping adolescents' approaches to food. An important implication is that high-SES families' discussions of food quality may strengthen messages about healthy eating, while conversations about affordability within low-SES families may highlight financial barriers to healthy eating.