How have eating patterns changed in modern life? In public and academic debate concern has been expressed that the social function of eating may be challenged by de-structuration and the dissolution of traditions.
We analyzed changes in the social context and conduct of eating in four Nordic countries over the period 1997–2012. We focused on three interlinked processes often claimed to be distinctive of modern eating: delocalization of eating from private households to commercial settings, individualization in the form of more eating alone, and informalization, implying more casual codes of conduct.
We based the analysis on data from two surveys conducted in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden in 1997 and 2012. The surveys reported in detail one day of eating in representative samples of adult populations in the four countries (N = 4823 and N = 8242). We compared data regarding where, with whom, and for how long people ate, and whether parallel activities took place while eating.
While Nordic people's primary location for eating remained the home and the workplace, the practices of eating in haste, and while watching television increased and using tablets, computers and smartphones while eating was frequent in 2012. Propensity to eat alone increased slightly in Denmark and Norway, and decreased slightly in Sweden. While such practices vary with socio-economic background, regression analysis showed several changes were common across the Nordic populations. However, the new practice of using tablets, computers, and smartphones while eating was strongly associated with young age. Further, each of the practices appeared to be related to different types of meal. We conclude that while the changes in the social organization of eating were not dramatic, signs of individualization and informalization could be detected.