“A Crisis Like No Other”: A Practice Theory Approach to Young Adults’ Food Practices in Times of Crisis
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As Sorokin (1943) remarkably maintained, crises ‘offer an opportunity to examine many aspects of social life which in normal times are hidden’. Disrupting the unreflective, habitual everyday life, crises make embedded routines and practices perceptible and thus open to explicit observations and discussions. The Covid-19 pandemic has been one such crisis that has not only challenged the resilient, taken-for-granted nature of practices and ‘routinized types of behavior’, but has shifted the focus from explicit and conspicuous consumption to the dynamics of mostly inconspicuous habits. Extant literature suggests that as young adults start to live independently, their everyday food and eating practices are disrupted. The processes associated with personal food production being complex and time-consuming, are further constrained by their living arrangements, access to food options, and budgetary constraints. Thus, their food behavior is largely comprised of out-of-home food service options, convenience eating, and episodic cooking at home. In this light, the present research investigates what happens when the invisible dynamics of everyday food practices and routines are disrupted, and how young consumers reconfigure their food practices as they transition through uncertainty and crisis situations. The study adopts a practice-theoretical lens to examine the misalignments that arise in young people’s food practice configurations, and how they negotiate possible tensions to realign the practice-constituting elements: materials, meanings, and competencies for the smooth performance of their food consumption practices. The study uses the research methodology of digital ethnography combined with interactive online food diaries and semi-structured interviews employing projective techniques with 22 participants. The findings of the study highlight the centrality of materials due to deficient materiality and ensuing practice misalignments in the wake of the crisis and lockdown mandates (e.g., social distancing, mobility restrictions, deroutinization, etc.). The results also shed light on how participants realign their practices within new material configurations and readjust their meanings and competences to resolve tensions resulting from misaligned food practices. Overall, this study contributes to a burgeoning body of literature on consumer research in social theory, crisis consumption, disruption, and studies on dietary practices of young adults. It also responds to the demand for empirical applications of practice theory, as well as practice (mis)alignment and reconfiguration. These findings provide both conceptual insights and practical implications for policymakers, consumer researchers, and social marketers, and present perspectives that can lead to sustainable, practice-oriented consumption interventions promoting healthy eating behaviors among young people, not only during exogenous events like a crisis or natural disaster but also in their later lives.