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How women use food to negotiate power in Pakistani and Indian households

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Women use food to negotiate power in Pakistani and Indian households according to new research by Sheffield Hallam University.

The study, which has been published in the Sociological Research Online journal looked at 84 South Asian women of Indian and Pakistani background who live in Britain, India and Pakistan and found that some women used food to express feelings of anger or love and negotiate power in their households.

Punita Chowbey from Sheffield Hallam's Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, conducted the research and found that these women used food to negotiate power by changing the menus, methods of cooking and serving orders or portion sizes – for example, by refusing to cook meat or altering meal times.

It also found a link between women's access to resources and the way food is prepared and eaten in their households as well as highlighting issues around healthy eating.

Some women involved in the study whose marriage involved conflict, expressed how they cooked what their husband liked to eat to avoid disputes. In households where couples had harmonious relationships, women reported  less dispute around food, and said the men were amicable when it came to healthy food choices such as daal, which is made of lentil.

One participant explained how she encouraged her husband to share some of the household responsibilities, by doing the food shopping for the family; however he bought non-essential and less healthy items.

There is some evidence to suggest that unhealthy diets among South Asian populations are contributing to health inequalities in the form of higher rates of mortality and morbidity in comparison to the rest of the UK.

Punita also suggests that knowledge about food and healthy cooking alone is not enough to encourage healthy eating. The power imbalance between men and women within these South Asian families when it comes to the household budget and cooking responsibilities plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy diet.

Punita said: "This research is really interesting because it helps us to understand the nuanced role that food plays in our relationships, by looking at the interplay of resources, gender norms, and marital relations that are central to household food consumption every day.

"Healthy eating policies and advice tend to narrowly focus on improving food knowledge and cooking skills rather than understanding the complex underlying factors associated with what food is purchased and consumed.

"The new research suggests that in order to encourage healthy eating, advice and policies need to engage with both women and men in order for it to lead to transformative changes in the household."

For press information: Contact Deanna Coult in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2811 or email