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Children’s Food? : Reflections on Politics, Policy and Practices Prof. Allison James University of Sheffield.

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Presentation on theme: "Children’s Food? : Reflections on Politics, Policy and Practices Prof. Allison James University of Sheffield."— Presentation transcript:

1 Children’s Food? : Reflections on Politics, Policy and Practices Prof. Allison James University of Sheffield.


3 Aims  To explore “children’s food” as a cultural construct that marks adult - child differences  To examine implications for theorising generational relations in late modernity  To situate the concept of “ children’s food” in wider policital/policy discourses

4 Generational relations  Alanen (2001): the two generational categories of children and adults are recurrently produced… through relations of connection, and interaction, of interdependence’ ( 2001: 21).  Differential exercise of power  Generational relations are part of the biographies of families

5 “Children’s food” in England  Growing separation adults and children reflected in different foods  “nursery” food  Mennell (1985) a matter of making them eat what was good for them, whether they liked it or not. At worst, making them eat food to which they actually felt an aversion was seen as a necessary part of breaking the child’s peevish will’ (1985:296).

6 Victorian children’s diets -class analysis  ….. the consequences for children of eating ‘complex and too solid forms of food’ were ‘ the sick headaches and bilious attacks which pursue their victim through half a lifetime, to be exchanged for gout or worse’ (Thompson cited in Mennell 1985:297).  ‘ the best way in which to give meat to girls is in the form of pain roast or boiled joints. Elabourate entrees, rich and stimulating sauces, and the like, may be left to temp the jaded palates if their elders. Digestive troubles may ensure when over-rich food is given’ ( cited in Mennel 1985: 297)

7 Food and English childhood?  Children different from adults - food prohibitions & prescriptions  Health focus on children as becomings  Later trickle down effects - school meal system 1930s  Children as the nation’s future through their everyday involvement in children’s lives, welfare bureaucracies of national and local government, and of philanthropy, imposed what, to all intent and purposes, were certain class dominated and ‘expert’ formulated concepts of childhood on the general population’ ( Hendrick 1997: 50)

8 English Children’s food - 21st century?  Index of generational relations in England  Family pubs c.f. adult restaurants  Different, specialised menu for children  Fast food, highly processed

9 Impact of food technology  Development of industrial food enables new foods and new prescriptions/ prohibitions highly processed marketed & packaged Fast food/junk food  New index of adult-child relations  New index of social class relations

10 Food as universal index of generation?  France & other European societies little in evidence Generation indexed in other ways CF  Hunter-gather societies Children’s food is wild food children, who have to perform tasks outside the home and the village and must cater for themselves, have a broad knowledge of the potential foods and how to prepare them’ (de Garine 1993:165) Prohibited for adults: shameful, a backward symbol of poverty and unbecoming to an individual attending school, an urbanite or the members of Christian and Muslim “high” religions’ (de Garine 1993:165).

11 Sweets as “children’s food” (James 1979)  Kets - rubbish, rotten carcasse  Kets- cheap sweets  Kets as “inedible”  Kets eaten in- between meals  Kets = food controlled by children, not eaten by adults

12 English Children’s food - 21st century?  Moral panic  Recent policy initiatives - childhood obesity 5 a day School dinner reforms Advertising bans/ restrictions  Surveillance & control


14 Prohibitions…..  'things like Sunny D and all those things that are advertised, is aimed at them, that is not particularly good for them really. Cheese strings and those things that they think are marvellous and really they're not. They'll have seen an advert on TV and thought that it looked good and can we give it a try. And, you know, sometimes I would try it but very often not really.'

15 Prohibitions….  She never bought me Dairylea dunkers. I’ve asked her and asked her when I was a kid and all she said was no’  I’d always prefer like a chocolate biscuit but I will not be allowed. Or coke and crisps.  I asked for chocolate spread and she didn’t get it.

16 Junk food = children’s food  Junk food is not “ proper ” food Dairylea Dunkers, cheese strings. They’re always asking for those. I never every buy them. I don’t know why they bother asking really.  Junk food as new social problem  Children’s childhoods as new social problem  Parenting under surveillance

17 Food, power & generational relations  Because when I go to the shop I always like take stuff. Take it all put it in the trolley she picks it out pulls it out of the trolley. It’s quite a nightmare to go with her... [what sort of things do you like to put in the trolley?] Biscuits, junk foods… She just puts healthy food back in. It’s like get the healthy food out and the junk food in.  'I'm not allowed to buy what I really -- I'm not allowed to buy loads of junk food, my dad doesn't let me, like loads of chocolate, I'm not allowed to buy chocolate, loads -- and sweets. Like maybe one, like, you know, packet

18 Children’s food = junk food  If my friends come we have a lot more junk food. My Mum makes like chips and burgers and I’m not really into that. But most of my friends, a lot of my friends are. When Paul comes…..For lunch he has a ham sandwich just plain with no butter 'cause he dun’t like butter. And then for dinner he has chicken nuggets and chips every day...….My Mum usually makes some chips and burger and things but he doesn’t like normal burgers. He has to get these special prime beef ones or someat.

19 Family childhoods & junk food  you get a bit slack, don’t you, and start doing things to cut corners and treats to keep ‘em quiet and so the rest of them have had more junk than the oldest I suppose.

20 Different families, different childhoods  'his mum would give it to 'em and say okay, you can have that'.... 'His brother wanted pasta and he wanted pizza and I went with whatever she was making'.  'it's really weird cause he has power over everything in his, at home. If his mum will go, his mum’s like so giving in to everything, his mum will go "Oh, shall we have like chocolate ice cream for dessert". He'll say, Lenny’ll say, "No, I really want the caramel thing". His mum’ll go "Oh, you can have caramel, you can have chocolate" and it's really like kind of cushioning ….in like foam'.

21 Different families, different childhoods 'I tend to do more children friendly food when somebody's coming over. But the rest of the time we tend to eat more sort of adult type meals but if there's a friend coming over then I will try and make it a bit more child friendly…..kind of like sausages and, you know, maybe pizza or something’ 'most of the time he would pick the sort of healthy option… [but] given the choice, every now and then, I think he'd have the junkie option’ one of the reasons why I would rather that he had packed lunch really. Cause I think given a free choice he might just choose the not so healthier options'…

22 Surveillance & control  Maintaining adult-child distinctions: when my mum and dad do shopping and they come back and they say “Those are mine. I bought them for me”. Then I wouldn’t touch them. I’d ask before if I wanted to have one’ (girl) We do have this top cupboard which has got like nice sweet things in. Maybe some crisps and chocolate but they may be for special occasions. But like it’s not only for the grown ups, but only the grown ups can go and eat. Like get, bring it down, or we’d have to ask permission. (girl)

23 Circumventing control….  And she doesn’t get us the nice biscuits. She gets the mud biscuits as we call them - the biscuits that don’t taste very nice, so we don’t eat them (boy)  my favourite chocolate’s “Bournville” and she’d got a big bar of it in the fridge which is really annoying so every now and then I can, like, I’ll say: “ I’ve just had a piece of fruit or yoghurt, please can I have a bit of chocolate.”

24 Child(ish) families? Junk families?  We like pizza, I mean, we like what you call junk foods, we like burgers, we like hot dogs, we like pizzas.

25 Other families = improper food=improper families -Sheila’s story  we were sat next to a table of two adults and three children who let’s say were not small…they weren’t obese but they weren’t small’.  me and Tim enjoyed the salad just as much as the pizza. We only had two pieces of pizza each and filled the plate up 'cause there’s loads of different really nice looking fresh salads.  all five of ‘em did it and they went up again and filled their plates up 'cause their dad had told ‘em it was a buffet… Yeah, he says, “I’ve paid a lot for this. So get up there and..”

26 My family= proper family = proper food = Sheila’s story contd. I know for a fact that they would, mine would have chosen the salad they wouldn’t just, I couldn’t think of anything more disgusting than sitting having to eat plate fulls of pizza. But that was obviously a message from their parents.  I know if they go out tomorrow for their dinner [ ] I know if there was a choice between Burger King, McDonald’s or a subway they’ll go to the subway sandwich shop. I know they would. They, they don’t, it would be torture for them to go and eat McDonalds and things like that.’

27 Proper families display families properly - Shelia’s story concludes  'at the end of the day you're in control, you are the parent, you've got the purse. You make the decisions and if kids pester you for a chocolate bar, just say no. The three and four-year-olds are getting their own way about what they want to eat and you're letting them down by letting them. Just say no and tell them why. And if they pester that much say, "Well, no you can't have a chocolate bar but go and choose a piece of fruit that you'd like." There's always a way round it but I think some of them are so hassled they just give in for quietness and they're not doing them any favours at all. And it's a load of crap that the kids get what they want to eat cause they've pestered for it.'

28 Conclusion  Junk food- junk childhood….a cultural paradox?  Technological changes map out child-adult distinctions via developments in “children’s food”  Children’s food symbolic of children’s separateness  Childhood obesity an unintended consequence of of such conceptual distinctions?

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