Diet and food are the reflections of one's culture and status or class
The first theoretical model I used to explain the diet and eating practices of triathletes and competitive marathon runners is a post-modern one which explains the motivations of behavior and values as a product the dominant mores in a culture and one's class. I used the anthropological concept of one’s un-selfconscious habits and routine practices known as habitus. One's habitus consists of the variety of practices and routine habits of day-to-day living that are based on one's culture and one's class status in society. This concept was developed by French post-modern anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu. He believed that one's perspectives and habitual practices of day-to-day living were actually the products of the cultural rules and values of one's society and one's socio-economic status in that society. Either a person abides by the dominating ideals and practices (e.g. the hegemonic values) of his or her society or resists them. In the early days of triathlon it was a counter-culture sport that resisted the some of dominant values of American culture that idealized corporate life and making a lot of money as the dominant goals for an adult. This pre-Babyboomer culture relegated competitive sports to professional athletes, the military and young people who had the time and resource to train. Participation was regulated to members of a school or club team in order to compete in races.
The sport of triathlon matured from a bunch of crazy races done by a bunch of counter-cultural teachers, ex-Navy SEALS and lifeguards into a highly conventionalized sport that reflects the dominant values of fitness and individual achievement in American culture. It also has become commoditized enough to have financial barriers to entry for their participants (Giulianotti 2005). A typical triathlon race entry fee has escalated from $30-$50 to $100 and more per person. The Ironman triathlon entry fee was $300 in 2008 and is much more now (World Triathlon Corporation 2008). The sport is no longer accessible to people of average means. According to Triathlete Magazine, the average subscriber spent $24,408 each year on triathlon-related purchases in 2008 (Triathlete 2008). Triathletes and marathon runners routinely eat high-carb and nutritious home made meals and specially formulated high-carbohydrate meal supplements.
- 71% are professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, environmental engineers, computer engineers, teachers, college professors, scientists, etc.
- 50% have an annual household income of $80,000 or more
- 53% have earned a bachelors degree
- 33% have post-graduate training, certification, a masters or a doctorate degree
- 42% have the leisure time to train 10
hours or more a week
- 81% are professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, environmental engineers, computer engineers, teachers, college professors, scientists, etc.
- 56% have an annual household income of $80,000 or more
- 87.5% have earned a bachelors degree
- 49% have post-graduate training, certification, a masters or a doctorate degree
The meaning of foods and food rituals
The other theoretical models I used were the interpretive one's of the British Structuralists Victor Turner and Mary Douglas. They both believed that there were universal cognitive structures in every culture that structured behaviors and practices as either good or bad. Turner believed that social rituals affirmed one's identity and membership in their group and reproduced their group's rules in successive generations. These universal structures are known as binary structures and were pioneered by French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. I asked my triathletes and marathon runners how they felt about their diet (which foods were good ones and which foods were bad ones and why). I also asked them about their eating practices while training for a race, during a race and immediately after they finished a race. From these questions I learned about their common food beliefs, dietary rules and rituals which involved food. What I found out was really interesting. Most of them had strict food rules and food rituals which they followed during their training and racing regimes. But, they also broke these rules ritually in certain contexts.
Food Rituals: Pre-race meals and post-race rites of reversal
Sharing a meal with others is symbolic of social ties and is often practiced ritualistically before an important race. Triathletes and marathon runners who train and travel together to a race often have a “Pre-Race Pasta” party or partake in “Carbo Loading” dinner. The commensality of these meals enforces the social bonds within the group of athletes and friends as they experience a spirit of communitas, or a feeling of egalitarianism and connection with each before a race (Giulanotti 2005:6).
Appendix A: Foodways Survey for Triathletes (n=29)
- “simple carbs, alcohol, processed food”
- “Alcohol, preservative laden foods, ice cream”
- “fried foods, lots of meat, lots of alcohol, soda!”
- “CHOCOLATE, COFFEE, SUGARS, STARCH”
- “anything with fake sugars desserts fast food of any kind”
- “carbohydrate foods like bagels, oatmeal, energy gels, bars like PowerBar.”
- “I find whole foods are best and I also try and avoid a lot of dairy …”
- “high carbohydrate foods like bagels, oatmeal, energy gels, bars like PowerBar”.
- “fruit and vegetables and juices. Yams/sweet potatoes for high carb content.”
- “WHOLE GRAIN BREAD, BANANAS, PASTA”
Appendix B: Foodways Survey for Marathon Runners (n=117)
- “French fries, alcohol, sweets”
- “Anything that takes a while to digest or impedes digestion. I tend to avoid: meat, friend foods, especially fried meat, cheese, anything ‘heavy’”
- “Liquor, fast foods, red meat, salt, processed foods”
- “Too much fat”
- “Processed foods tell me ‘evil’. Although I used soda in ultras, just consuming them (my big vice) is not good at all. Dairy products…Eating too much puts on fat. Take out food. Coffee…”