Split in two: the food-related experiences of teenagers who move between two homes post-divorce
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There is little research examining the impact of divorce on children’s experiences of food and eating. This is surprising considering the high rates of divorce in Canada, 50% of which involve children, and current concerns about children’s health and weight. The purpose of this project was to explore how divorce and spending time in two households affects teenagers’ eating practices, the social and cultural meanings they associate with food and eating, and their identities. Situated in the childhood studies literature, this study acknowledged teenagers’ agency and competence by engaging them in photo-elicited, open-ended interviews. Nine teenagers between the ages of 11-17 were recruited and participated in individual interviews that ranged from 55 to 120 minutes in duration. I used inductive qualitative techniques to code and analyze the data. The findings show that teenagers from divorced families who split their time between two homes must negotiate and adapt to new food cultures in each of their homes. Rules around the types of, and access to certain foods changed between homes as did the expectations around dinnertime, eating together, and food preparation responsibilities. The rules and expectations of the teenagers changed as parents re-married and as new stepsiblings and half-siblings joined the family. The participants were active agents in each home, often deciding to comply with the rules and expectations but also exerting power and control, for example, by withholding mealtime conversation. The participants were aware of hegemonic ideals of the family and the family meal and worked to protect the image of their parents and families. This study shows that divorce influences social and cultural aspects of food and eating for teenagers. The findings can help inform public health strategies and best practice of clinicians, such as dietitians, counsellors, and doctors. It can also add to the limited body of research on the topic in childhood studies and food studies.