In a study involving 217 survey respondents, supplemented by personal interviews, we got an inside look at the dimensions of food and meal arrangements in the lives of foreign domestic workers (FDW).

The impetus for this research was to explore how food consumption and dining arrangements within the employer’s household was a medium through which power and authority over the domestic worker was exercised, and through which social standing and hierarchy was reinforced.

The online survey was translated into two languages – Indonesian and Filipino – in order to reach FDWs of these two communities. We obtained valid responses from 108 Indonesians an 109 Filipinas. We then showed the results to 8 FDWs (3 Indonesian and 5 Filipina), to get their reaction and insights, so as to better interpret our data.

Our findings reached into matters of food quantity, dietary preferences and the degree of accommodation by employers, purchases of ingredients that the FDWs desired for themselves, vocalisation of hunger, snacking, mealtime arrangements and perceptions of nutritional balance.

While, as expected, experiences varied from one worker to another, certain common themes emerged, indicating areas of tension (often unarticulated within the employer-employee relationship) and neglect. What our report paints is a picture of subtle dynamics which may not be visible at a glance, such as:

  • Most FDWs do not feel comfortable telling their employers when they are hungry. One coping strategy may be to rely on snacking, but this raises questions about nutritional quality.
  • Insufficient accommodation of FDWs’ dietary preferences is a fairly common threme. Muslim employees may feel they have to walk a fine line while handling food. There are also reports of employers having strong preferences (e.g. brown rice) and may impose the same preferences on employees.
  • With only rare exceptions, FDWs are spatially excluded from dining arrangements. While they may not be keen themselves to be at the dining table with the family, many find themselves with neither table or stool when eating in the kitchen.

The report (54 pages in PDF)  by our intern Cheryl can be downloaded by clicking the icon at right.