Knowledge for better food systems

Swiss guidelines and “healthy and sustainable” diets

FCRN member Laurence Godin of the University of Geneva has written a paper that uses social practice theory to map food prescriptions (i.e. guidelines on how best to eat) and their translation in practice. It identifies what elements are essential for taking up food prescriptions, beyond individual motivation and intention.

The paper looks at influences such as the types of foods available to workers on their daily commute, the organisation of household work, and social relationships inside and outside of the home.

This paper argues that, to support transitions towards healthier and more sustainable diets, it is crucial to think of individual practices as embedded in a social system, and consider that the system must change (in terms of infrastructure, institutions, and social norms) in order for individual behaviour to change as well.



This paper takes as a starting point “food consumption prescriptions”, or guidelines on what and how one should eat when it comes to “healthy and sustainable diets”. Through qualitative research in Switzerland, involving discourse analysis, observations, in-depth interviews, and focus groups, we set out to uncover the more dominant prescriptions put forward by a variety of actors, how consumers represent these prescriptions, as well as overlaps and tensions between them. The notion of a “balanced meal” is the more prominent prescription, along with the idea that food and eating should be “pleasurable”. Guidelines towards eating local and seasonal products overlap with organic and natural food consumption, while prescriptions to eat less meat of higher quality are in tension with prescriptions around vegetarian and vegan diets. We then consider how prescriptions play out in daily life, as both a resource and obstacle towards the establishment of eating habits, and what dimensions of everyday life have the most influence on how certain prescriptions are enacted – contributing to conceptual deliberations on food in relation to social practices. Time, mobility, and the relationships built around food and eating are forces to be reckoned with when considering possible transitions towards the normative goal of “healthier and more sustainable diets”.



Godin, L. and Sahakian, M., 2018. Cutting through conflicting prescriptions: How guidelines inform “healthy and sustainable” diets in Switzerland. Appetite, 130, pp.123-133.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource resource What are the influences on our food choices?

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