Promoting Healthy Eating or Unhealthy Stereotypes?

The researcher facing this dilemma is a New Yorker born and raised. Having attended university overseas, she decides to return to the City to work on an important piece of research the will add to the growing interest among public health officials, educators and even politicians in nutrition.


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Her ethnographic research involves spending time and using various methodologies to find out more about what Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in the City think about what they eat.

Over the course of her research, the ethnographer becomes aware that her research questions are contextualized through her position as an individual and as someone interested in nutrition. She is also aware of the environment that the ongoing “pouring on the pounds” campaign and other education programs focusing on individual choice as a reason for rising obesity rates, has contributed to creating in the City. As an anthropologist, she knows that there is far more to food and drink choices than simply personal decision making and she attempts to make sure that her research participants know that she is not judging them for their choices, and that she is not a nutritionist or some kind of “health nut.” She is aware that her petite body type conforms to a stereotype of an upper/middle class white New Yorker while the heavier body type of many of her participants is something more commonly found in Mexican communities of lower socio-economic status. While she is strict in her adherence to the ethical standards of respect for persons, justice and certainly believes her research will ultimately benefit the community, she cannot account for every situation.

One afternoon, she is conducting an informal interview with a research participant who she has met a few times before. The participant, a young Mexican woman, suggests they meet at a local restaurant and she agrees. At the restaurant, she looks at the menu to decide what to order. She wants to be honest with her actions and considers a salad, but feels that she will seem like she is obsessed with “healthy eating” since many of her research participants have reported that salad is a “healthy food.” She considers ordering something high in calories/fat to make her research participant feel at ease to order whatever she wants but feels like maybe she will be sending mixed messages. Whatever she chooses, she runs the risk of potentially causing harm.

She is having an ethical dilemma!

What would you do?

Order a salad

By ordering a salad, you present a healthy example while being honest about what you like to eat. However, are you simply reinforcing the stereotype of the slim upper/middle class New Yorker and making your participant feel self-conscious about her choice of meal and, ultimately, compromising the research through ...

Defend this Choice!

Order the sopes con carnitas (served with cheese and cream on top)

By ordering a higher fat and culturally appropriate meal, you are showing that you enjoy and are interested in participating in the cultural practices of your research community. However, are you sending mixed messages about nutrition and encouraging your research participants to eat meals that may be less healthy ...

Defend this Choice!

Order chicken and vegetable soup with tortillas

By ordering the soup, you show that you appreciate Mexican foods and, also, that you understand that these foods can be nutritious and delicious. Chicken soup is not considered a "special" food so you show that you enjoy simple foods. But are you really being honest about yourself? ...

Defend this Choice!

Allow your research participant to order for you

Balancing the dilemma of ordering is overwhelming so you ask your research participant if she would choose a meal for you. This relieves you of the responsibility and may give you a unique window into how your participant perceives you but is it really ethical to give up control ...

Defend this Choice!

Posted in Considering in New York City, Ethical Dilemmas, Promoting Healthy Eating or Unhealthy Stereotypes?
2 comments on “Promoting Healthy Eating or Unhealthy Stereotypes?
  1. Sade M. says:

    Compromise. The complexity of this dilemma surrounds the idea of not sending mix messages to the research participant or not making the participant feel uncomfortable during the meeting. Choose something that is going to be honest and feel good to you but, maybe take it as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try and experience something new. This will allow you to connect with the participant as well as allow you the comfort to not feel as if you are contradicting yourself nor harming your research with the participant.

  2. I agree with the whole stereotype diet concept because I have heard the term, “you eat like a white person” when someone eats a meal that is a bit unusual to their daily meal menu.

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