Food preparation and consumption practices are considered integral to the maintenance or deterioration of bodily health. As a consequence, individuals in western societies are regularly exhorted to follow health guidelines in their everyday diets. However many fail to heed this advice. Various reasons have been proposed for lack of behavioural change, but few have fully considered the social function and symbolic meanings of food and eating.

This paper presents the findings of an exploratory study using the innovative qualitative research method of memory-work to uncover the meanings surrounding food practices in developed societies. The data used are childhood memories about food written by students at an Australian university. The memories are examined for common themes and patterns, revealing important aspects of the ways in which food contributes to social relationships and cultural practices. The findings provide explanations for individuals' adherence to certain eating habits and avoidance of others, and point the way towards the further application of memory-work to elucidate the meanings and symbolic role played by food in western societies.