A “deeply empathetic” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) “must-read” (Marion Nestle) that “weaves lyrical storytelling and fascinating research into a compelling narrative” (San Francisco Chronicle) to look at dietary differences along class lines and nutritional disparities in America, illuminating exactly how inequality starts on the dinner plate.
Inequality in America manifests in many ways, but perhaps nowhere more than in how we eat. From her years of field research, sociologist and ethnographer Priya Fielding-Singh brings us into the kitchens of dozens of families from varied educational, economic, and ethnoracial backgrounds to explore how—and why—we eat the way we do. We get to know four families intimately: the Bakers, a Black family living below the federal poverty line; the Williamses, a working-class white family just above it; the Ortegas, a middle-class Latinx family; and the Cains, an affluent white family.
Whether it's worrying about how far pantry provisions can stretch or whether there's enough time to get dinner on the table before soccer practice, all families have unique experiences that reveal their particular dietary constraints and challenges. By diving into the nuances of these families’ lives, Fielding-Singh lays bare the limits of efforts narrowly focused on improving families’ food access. Instead, she reveals how being rich or poor in America impacts something even more fundamental than the food families can afford: these experiences impact the very meaning of food itself.
Packed with lyrical storytelling and groundbreaking research, as well as Fielding-Singh’s personal experiences with food as a biracial, South Asian American woman, How the Other Half Eats illuminates exactly how inequality starts on the dinner plate. Once you’ve taken a seat at tables across America, you’ll never think about class, food, and public health the same way again.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In writing this fascinating and informative book, ethnographer Priya Fielding-Singh interviewed nearly 200 parents (mostly moms) about their families’ diets. Her findings were almost shockingly consistent. Overwhelmingly, mothers feel drained and alone in their worries about their children’s nutrition, experiencing near-constant stress about how to provide good food that’s healthy and tasty. Fielding-Singh follows four particular families across racial and class boundaries, and learns that whether the issue is getting overscheduled children to the dinner table or simply having enough food to eat, it’s clear that all families and children could use more empathy and support. If you’ve ever found yourself worrying about how to feed your kids a nutritious meal they’ll actually enjoy, How the Other Half Eats will leave you feeling heard.
Sociologist Fielding-Singh debuts with an enlightening examination of how socioeconomic inequities affect eating habits and health. Drawing on research she conducted as a Stanford University PhD student, Fielding-Singh profiles four families living in San Francisco's Bay Area and documents their food choices and limitations over the course of several years. Nyah Baker, a Black single mother of two teenage daughters, relies on disability checks, payday loans, and occasional sex work to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Julie Cain, the wife of a corporate lawyer, spends roughly $900 per month on food for her family of four. Fielding-Singh reveals that an impoverished parent will spend more than she can afford on a luxurious meal because food is one of the few pleasures she can give her children, and that racial stereotypes affect ideas about healthy food choices ("There's a reason why people sing the praises of kale but not collard greens"). Mealtimes are particularly complex for middle-class mothers balancing work and household duties, Fielding-Singh notes, while Blacks and Mexican Americans haven't made the same dietary improvements as whites in recent decades. The author's deeply empathetic approach allows her to personalize the copious data on nutritional and health disparities she cites. The result is devastating portrait of "the scarcity, uncertainty, and anxiety that permeates so much of the American dietary experience."