Which context matters? Tasting in everyday life practices and social science theories

What influences how people taste the food they eat? This paper investigates how sensual engagements with food, particularly tasting it, become contextualized in everyday life practices and social science theories. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a Swiss hospital, the Kantonsspital Graubünden, the paper analyzes what doctors, patients and nurses bring up as shaping sensual engagements with food. It also investigates how sensual engagements with food become contextualized in three social scientific studies on “taste,” “eating” and “tasting”. The paper argues that the three different contexts developed in these studies, namely “society,” “food culture” and “in practice,” do not help to make sense of what was observed and was brought up by the people working and living in the hospital as shaping sensual engagements with food: what happens before, after and around eating. The paper therefore adds “mundane goings-on” as a fourth context and concludes that contexualizing tasting allows the addressing of social issues. It recommends further investigation of the relation between contexts.

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