Reproduction and food

Since 2020, I have explored different aspects of the role of food in relation to reproduction.

Milk Wars
(2022-2023)

« Milk Wars: Gender, class and nation in contemporary parenting culture »

This research project will look at the values attaches to alternative milks for children and infants – defined as plant-based (soy, almond, chestnut, etc.) and non-cow dairy milks (goat, camel, donkey, etc.) – and focus on the Swiss context.

Infant and child feeding have rightly been analysed as exemplary domains of what parenting culture studies have named the « intensive mothering » culture, as mothers are under pressure to devote substantial time and energy to the provision of good-quality food for their offspring. Recent scholarship suggests that this intensive mothering culture is being reinforced under the influence of global social movements such as environmentalism and the animal rights movement, which translate into even more maternal work by complexifying consumption choices. This project will make crucial contributions to the understanding of contemporary parenting norms and how they contribute to the reproduction of inequalities, at a time when the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic are worsening gender and social inequities in Switzerland and around the world.

The first research axis  of the project aims at mapping the values attached to different alternative milks by analysing how they articulate with one another and how they relate to environmental and/or animal rights concerns. The second research axis investigates the articulation of infant and child feeding with gender, class and nation by asking how maternal and paternal roles figure into the discursive comparison of alternative milks and how alternative milks support social distinction based on class and the construction of national identity. Switzerland is an excellent site for such a case study because a controversy has been developing during the last fifteen years around the use of alternative milks and given the symbolic importance of (cow’s) milk in Switzerland’s national identity. 

This research project runs from Spring 2022 to Autumn 2023 and is funded by a Postdoc Mobility fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Postdoc.Mobility grant nr. 202925). It is hosted by Dr. Charlotte Faircloth and Dr. Rebecca O’Connell, Thomas Coram Research Unit at UCL and by Dr. Norah MacKendrick, Department of Sociology at Rutgers University

Child veganism as a reproductive panic
(2020-2022)

The “problem” of the vegan child: An analysis of food politics and parenting culture in Switzerland

In this research project, I analyse the figure of the vegan child in Switzerland as a symbol of fears and hopes about the future. How is child veganism perceived in Switzerland? What are the reasons for the promotion or for the criticism of child veganism? How are health, environment and the future of humanity entangled in child feeding choices?
The project runs from 2020 to 2022 and is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Early Postdoc.Mobility grant nr. 191275). It is hosted by the Reproductive Sociology Research Group at the University of Cambridge and the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent.

« Food and Reproduction Symposium », 4-5 May 2022, Cambridge

How can we think about the role of food in reproduction, childcare and parenting? Which meanings are attributed to food in discussions of fertility, pregnancy or childfeeding? And what can we learn from these discourses about gender, race or class? In this symposium, we will bring into conversation insights from reproduction, parenting, food and environmental studies to explore how food is articulated with reproduction, from fertility to parenting.
In the contemporary intensive parenting culture, food is framed as a substance of care. Parents are expected to devote considerable resources to provide “good” food to their offspring – a task the falls mostly on the shoulders of mothers. Even before conception, food quality and quantity appear as a major issue in the social control of reproductive bodies, with poor quality or excessive food intake being framed as a threat to foetal health. As a potential vector of environmental toxicity, food is an object of medical and individual anxiety. Ideas of purity are pervasive in representations of “good” infant and child feeding, drawing on parental (maternal) responsibility to optimise children’s health. When food is scarce, some parents reduce their own food intake to protect their children. In many ways, looking at food reveals expectations of self-regulation and self-sacrifice that are at the core of normative reproduction in a neoliberal context.
Food also occupies a prominent place in ideas on the reproduction of populations. Historically, food has been central in biopolitical ideas on the reproduction of nation and race, as a means to improve a population’s health and further imperialist agendas. Discourses on nutrition and food production often draw on hopes and fears for future generations, entangling the reproduction of humans with that of non-human animals and the environment. Food narratives also provide a lens to explore how reproduction and parenting are “stratified” through food: how do nutritional advice and social norms on child feeding frame some parents or reproductive subjects as bad carers? How is food toxicity an issue affecting the right for people to choose whether to have children and how to raise them? How can we think of food as a vector of injustice or privilege in the reproductive process?
In this symposium, we will explore how food can be thought of as “reproductive substance”, a substance through which kinship, relations and social stratifications are reproduced. 

More

List of conference talks on child veganism

List of outreach activities on child veganism

Description of the project on the Swiss National Science Foundation’s website