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?
Alternative child feeding like veganism is adopted by a growing number of families worldwide and in Switzerland. This has fuelled controversies on the resulting health risks or benefits for children, as reflected in the publication of medical guidelines or in the media relaying occasional tragic outcomes of vegan child feeding. However, sociological research on the subject is very scarce. We know from the sociology of food that food-related practices reveal processes of boundary-drawing, othering and social distinction in terms of class, race, nation or gender. Research has also shown that motivations for choosing certain alternative diets reveal the ordering of values and worldviews (like health, environment or animal rights). The case of veganism is still understudied, however. Studies of parental attitudes toward child feeding have revealed the growing importance of health in family food choices. Besides, food practices in families are heavily gendered, with child feeding being defined as a maternal responsibility. A more comprehensive look at gender politics in food practices is needed, since the role of fathers remains little described - let alone in vegan families. Some studies suggest that gender inequalities are particularly prominent in vegan practices and discourses.My research project aims at analysing the contemporary controversy on vegan child feeding in Switzerland. By bridging the gap between two fields of research that have so far mostly developed independently, the sociology of food and the sociology of reproduction and parenting, it will contribute to a better understanding of contemporary parenting culture and food prescriptions. Switzerland is an excellent site for this inquiry since the controversy is currently ongoing, and more generally because alternative food practices are very popular in this country. The research questions (RQ) will aim at revealing how discourses problematise vegan child feeding (RQ1) and how parental roles and responsibilities are defined in this context (RQ2). Specific objectives are: mapping out the dominant problem representations on vegan child feeding (objective 1A), identifying the motivations for choosing or advising against a vegan diet for children (1B), analysing to what extent discourses on veganism contribute to the construction of national or class identity (1C), analyse parental roles in alternative child feeding (2A) and identifying whether and how discourses on vegan children produce gendered parental roles (2B). This will be achieved through a three-step methodological design: (1) identification of main actors and discourses of the controversy; (2) collection and production of data; (3) analysis. According to the results of my preliminary research, the project relies on the triangulation of three types of sources (documents, interviews, observation) emanating from the three main actors’ groups involved in the controversy (health experts, activists and parents). This will allow for a cross-analysis of the various voices involved in the controversy for both research questions, while literature has mostly relied on unilateral sources so far. Through this project I intend to contribute to broader discussions of food practices and parenting in the civil society. By shedding light on a little-know yet timely subject of controversy, my results could contribute to the development of relevant public health policies. Communicating to a broader audience will also be pursued. Because both food practices and parenting are a locus of reproduction of social inequalities, a sociological perspective can help raising awareness to the effects of policies and discourses.
Research project information
Childhood – adolescence
Ecology – environment – sustainability
Family – parenthood – kinship
Animals – speciesism – antispeciesism
Gender Studies, Social Anthropology, Sociology