In the Absence of Food: A Case of Rhythmic Loss and Spoiled Identity for Patients with Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy Feeding Tubes

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This study addresses the social and symbolic meaning of food and explores what happens on a micro/interactional level when people lose the ability to eat. Data are from open-ended survey research questions of patients with percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) feeding tubes as well as their families. Specifically, I draw on the symbolic interactionist perspective to understand the micro/interactional implications of food meaning and how such meanings are intrinsically connected to issues of identity. While eating and receiving proper nourishment are biological necessities for survival, the meanings surrounding eating and various food consumption practices extend far beyond mere nutritional consumption. Partaking in food consumption practices and rituals connects individuals to the societies in which they live. For PEG tube recipients, the loss of the ability to eat is experienced as a social loss and as an event that results in an undesirable change in their identity. Family members of patients with PEG tubes are also affected by this shift in their loved one's identity—indicating a spillover effect of stressful life events from one family member to another. The seemingly banal event of eating is discussed as an extraordinary social phenomenon.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2005

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