"Good" Food as Family Medicine: Problems of Dualist and Absolutist Approaches to "Healthy" Family Foodways

By Julie M. Parsons.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

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A commitment to healthy foodways is a means of demonstrating responsible individualism and self-care. What are the consequences for maternal identity when forced to feed the family “unhealthy” food? In the current UK foodscape “good” food is usually “healthy” and feeding the family “healthy” food has high symbolic and cultural value. In this article I examine the implications of such rigid conceptualizations of appropriate feeding practices and feeding healthy food as a means of doing “good” mothering. I conducted a qualitative study over nine months in early 2011, inviting respondents to document their life histories around food through a series of asynchronous in depth on line interviews. There were two interrelated purposes, firstly to explore the food memories of others, and secondly to critically examine the social and cultural milieu in which these were articulated. Three quarters of respondents were parents and some considered food important for health and a source of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This meant a commitment to the hyper surveillance of dietary practices in the interests of controlling health and/or illness, either theirs or others (children, partners, families). For one family this meant that they were forced to use “unhealthy” food in order to treat their child’s drug resistant epilepsy. The diet was highly successful, yet potentially problematic for maternal identity. How can a “good” mother feed her family “bad” food? I argue that one way of transcending this dualistic and absolutist approach to feeding is by engaging in intensive mothering.

Keywords: Food, Foodways, Health, Family, Mothering, Motherhood, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), Class, Culture

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 4, Issue 2, February 2015, pp.1-13. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 633.906KB).

Dr Julie M. Parsons

Lecturer, School of Government and Society, Faculty of Business, Plymouth University, Plymouth, Devon, UK