Perceptions of the authenticity of food: a study of residents in Dorset (UK)
Authors: Beer, S.
Editors: Brown, L. and Long, P.
In this thesis I critically explore the relationship between authenticity, the individual, society and the food consumed within that society for a group of residents in Dorset in the United Kingdom. . The authenticity of food impacts on our understandings of the economic, social, political and environmental contexts of food and is worthy of research. As such I focused on my participants’ perceptions of the authenticity of food as something a priori; as it was perceived before other considerations, in ordered to get a primary understanding of the subject.
I have positioned myself as a reflexive explorer / researcher who views the world from the position of interpretive constructionism derived from the ideas of postmodernism. I have utilized a qualitative research strategy; phenomenology and more specifically Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). My explanation of the methodology is accompanied by a description of the philosophical underpinning to the work with specific reference to Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Levinas and Derrida. Data were collected using focus groups based around a meal. When I asked my focus group participants about their perspectives on the nature of the authenticity of food, they described understandings that were vested in four key areas: Family and friends; Saucing: cooking and flavour; Sourcing: where does it come from? and; Interaction with the distinctly other (people that were not friends and family). In terms of the discussion of family and friends, much of this was to do with their experiences of growing up and their relationships with their parents and grandparents. In analysis, ideas such as time, tradition, heritage and gender came to the fore. When looking at saucing, the focus was on the process of cooking and eating, and memories of flavour and aroma. Sourcing highlighted feelings of localness and led to the development of concepts relating to connectedness to those that produce the food and connection to the food itself. There were also concerns as to the provenance of food and feelings of trust and mistrust. Finally, in looking at the distinctly other, as opposed to kith and kin, participants related experiences of trust and vulnerability, authority and independence, and inclusion and exclusion. These ideas informed a discussion on the nature of hospitality in the context of the authenticity of food. In my conclusions I describe how I found my participants’ perceptions of authentic food to be constructed in a place between them as individuals and the Other and changed over time. Perceptions of authenticity were fluid and playful. I also evaluate the work using the criteria of rigour, resonance, reflexivity and relevance, where relevance is split to look at relevance to the academic community and to broader society.