Feeding children in the new parenting culture

This event, which received funding from the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness, was held on Monday 21 March 2011 at the British Library Conference Centre.

What children consume in their early years – breast or formula milk, organic or ‘junk’ food – is often a topic of heated public debate. Childhood eating has become powerfully linked in the social and political imagination to wider problems such as obesity, cancers and even intellectual development and emotional health. Such problems are now routinely described in catastrophic terms. These days, questioning the validity of crusades to shake up apparently complacent adults and compel them to change the dietary habits of the young, risks widespread opprobrium.

This event aimed to document and critically assess this increased attention to infant and childhood eating, by looking at the effect this has had on parents themselves. Discussions explored the kinds of claims made by various interested parties about feeding children, and focussed on how the moralization of this area of life impacts on parental experience and identity.

The day featured a lecture by Dr. Joan Wolf, of Texas A&M University, author of Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood (New York and London: NYU Press). Discussants joining Professor Wolf included Professor Elizabeth Murphy (Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Science, University of Leicester), Dr Mary Fewtrell (Reader in Childhood Nutrition, Honorary Consultant Paediatrician, Institute of Child Health, UCL) and Zoe Williams (Columnist, The Guardian). Articles about Wolf’s work – ‘Is breast really best?’ and ‘Why breastfeeding is overrated’ can be found on the Babble and Macleans websites. A review of Wolf’s book by CPCS associates can be found here

There were also sessions on ‘Feeding children in the ‘obesity crisis’’ – looking at the cultural meaning of ‘obesity epidemic’, and how this idea impacts on parent-child relations – and ‘Food, motherhood and meaning’, exploring the way women internalise and struggle with ideas about what it means to be a ‘good mother’ when it comes to feeding children. One of the papers in this session addressed current debates around weaning infants onto solid food, and some of the implications of ‘baby-led weaning’ for mothers.

Follow the links below for further information about the presentations, including audio recordings and powerpoint slides.


Abstracts and papers (including audio/PPT slides)

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