Food, home and health: the meanings of food amongst Bengali Women in London

Background: This paper explores the nature of food and plants and their meanings in a British Bengali urban context. It focuses on the nature of plants and food in terms of their role in home making, transnational connections, generational and concepts of health. Methods: An ethnographic approach to the research was taken, specific methods included participant observation, focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. Thirty women of Bengali origin were mostly composed of "mother" and "daughter" pairs. The mothers were over 45 years old and had migrated from Bangladesh as adults and their grown-up daughters grew up in the UK. Results: Food and plants play an important role in the construction of home "here" (London) while continuing to connect people to home "there" (Sylhet). This role, however, changes and is re-defined across generations. Looking at perceptions of "healthy" and "unhealthy" food, particularly in the context of Bengali food, multiple views of what constitutes "healthy" food exist. However, there appeared to be little two-way dialogue about this concept between the research participants and health professionals. This seems to be based on "cultural" and power differences that need to be addressed for a meaningful dialogue to occur. Conclusion: In summary, this paper argues that while food is critical to the familial spaces of home (both locally and globally), it is defined by a complex interplay of actors and wider meanings as illustrated by concepts of health and what constitutes Bengali food. Therefore, we call for greater dialogue between health professionals and those they interact with, to allow for an enhanced appreciation of the dynamic nature of food and plants and the diverse perceptions of the role that they play in promoting health.