I take this opportunity to report on and to share some thoughts regarding “feeding children inside and outside the home”, which was the title of a symposium organised by Royal Holloway (University of London) which took place recently.
I gave a talk in that symposium about the politics behind school dinners, and other speakers addressed a wide range of relevant issues based on pilot researches, including lunch boxes, breastfeeding, intensive parenting (regarding nutrition), and =the sociology of nibbles and grazing.
In this post I would like to raise one of the main themes from the symposium, regarding the way parenthood is perceived as a whole, based on the child’s nutrition.
To an extent, parents are subject to public scrutiny from day one, as mothers are routinely asked if they chose to breastfeed their new born child. Research shows that many mothers are criticised by professionals, as well as by family and friends, for the decision not to breastfeed. These mums say that they experience guilt and self-blame, which affected badly their motherhood, adding extra challenge to the already existing ones.
At nurseries, the public eye gazes at the way children eat and treat food, and their manners are judged even in such an early stage. Research shows that nurseries’ staff observe toddlers and expect them to eat politely and in a clean manner that doesn’t suit their age and their developmental stage. The parents of messy kids who liked to explore the food, were marked in a negative way, and were perceived as not clean or lacking authority in general.
Another research reveals that later on, at school, dinner ladies, teachers and head-teachers were found to judge parents for the content of lunch boxes. Parents were interviewed about the conflicts they had with school staff over food, and how burdening this was for them. Other parents explained that even though schools seem to try their best and support better decisions, in many cases the conflict is more prevalent than other options.
The exposure of parenthood to the public gaze through children’s nutrition is something to notice, and it is important to be aware of its consequences. As a society, we wouldn’t want parents to change their ways only to appear as good parents, or to fight against systems only to preserve their status as decision-makers when their children are concerned.
The symposium revealed that, while it may well be important to educate the public, and parents in particular, some of the methods undertaken need to be revised, to become less judgmental and more dialogic. Then they would better support the parents who find it difficult to cope or simply perceive things differently.
To add some more food for thought in this respect, here is an interesting piece about toddlers’ nutrition in the 2000’s.
Dr. Tilly Paz, First year student
DISCLAIMER – this article is intended for information only and should not be considered to be nutritional advice. If you would like to change your diet please see a qualified registered practitioner for professional advice.