People use food not only as nourishment but also as a form of cultural and social expression in their everyday lives (Fjellström, 2009, pp. 56–57).
Young people’s attitudes, eating habits and cultural expressions through food are affected by their socioeconomic conditions and class (Simon et al., 2018, pp. 694–696). Additionally, their eating and drinking habits are affected by peer groups and social norms in youth cultural spaces (Wills, 2005, pp. 104–106, 109). Since each person negotiates their relationship to food choices and meals differently, it is necessary to conduct studies on how young people learn to express their identity through food in their leisure time.
Learning Food-Related Knowledge and Skills
In Finland, home and school have traditionally played strong roles in the learning of knowledge and skills about food (Janhonen, 2016, pp. 114–115). Parents influence their children’s eating habits through their own food choices, schedules, family meals, discussions about food and information sharing (Palojoki, 2003, pp. 53–54). The importance of family meals and the time allocated for shared meals may vary between families (Quarmby & Dagkas, 2015, pp. 334–336), although the healthiness of food is rarely the main priority (Palojoki & Tuomi-Gröhn, 2001, p. 21).
In this article, we focus on youth work at youth centres and explore how young people learn food-related skills, including food preparation, in informal learning environments. At Finnish youth centres, young people can meet each other, participate in activities, have fun together and gain support and encouragement from adults. The activities offered by these centres are mainly based on wishes, needs and interests of young people, and social interaction plays an important role in them.
Although not adequately studied in the research on youth work, food is always present at Finnish youth centres. Young people may bring their own snacks, and there are kiosks and cafés where young people can buy snacks.
Since youth centres aim to create opportunities for peer interaction, it is understandable that food and food-related practices are part of the social construction of youth centres. Food can mediate social interactions (Holm et al., 2012), and it is common to eat with others (Higgs, 2015, pp. 39–42).
In recent years, Finnish youth centres have begun to offer young people the opportunity to regularly prepare food together, which means that they have become informal food learning environments (Kauppinen, 2018, p. 98)..