Household Sustainability
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Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.
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Chapter 2: Spaghetti bolognese

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt


There is no more important household task than getting food on the table. Shopping for and preparing meals is a complex and relentless task in which decisions about cost, convenience, taste and health are juggled. Like other aspects of domestic labour (see Chapters 7, 12), it also remains a heavily gendered task. More of the financial provisioning is undertaken by men, with women doing more of the work of translating money into the family meal. When both do so under increasing time pressures, with or without the pres- ence of young, hungry children, it is not surprising that the family meal table becomes a flashpoint. Yet the family meal retains iconic status as a symbol of sharing and communication around a common hearth. What about sustainability concerns? The complex suite of materials and meanings around food create both potential for a sustainability focus, and competition with other household demands. Food is, according to one study, responsible for 29 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions of a typical Australian household (Wright et al. 2009, 4). The dilemmas of sustainability around food are critical. Comparable national figures in Europe vary between 15 per cent and 28 per cent (Garnett 2011). Yet research suggests that food and its related processes are not commonly perceived as sustainability activities (Whitmarsh et al. 2011). In our survey research, while high proportions of respondents recycled newspaper and glass (93 per cent) and switched off lights in unoccupied rooms (66 per cent), few avoided eating red meat (10 per cent). Our household survey indicated that preferences for meat did change from July 2008 to July 2009, with 7 per cent increasing and 28 per cent decreasing meat consumption. However, it was not sustainability that mobilized preference changes to diets, with less than 1 per cent citing ‘the environment’ or ‘climate change’. Instead, participants highlighted ‘cost’ (17 per cent), ‘diet’ (15 per cent) and ‘health’ (10 per cent).

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