The limits of intensive feeding: maternal foodwork at the intersections of race, class, and gender

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Despite experiencing numerous barriers, mothers today confront increasing social pressure to embody perfection through their foodwork. A growing body of social science research identifies how gender and class inequality shape women's perceptions of food and their feeding strategies, but this research is thus far limited in its understanding of the roles that race and ethnic identity play in a mother's food landscape. Drawing on 60 in-depth interviews with a racially and economically diverse group of mothers, this paper examines how feeding young children is intertwined with contemporary ideas about child health as well as women's efforts to negotiate race, class, and gender hierarchies. Extending Hays' concept of intensive mothering, rich descriptions of feeding children reveal how mothers in this study are discursively engaged with what I call an ‘intensive feeding ideology’ – the widespread belief that good mothering is synonymous with intensive food labour. Drawing on intersectional theory, this article discusses the limits of an intensive feeding ideology, particularly for poor and middle-class mothers of colour. The findings contribute to an understanding of how power relations are embedded within food ideologies and how mothers of young children attempt to negotiate them.

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Sociology of Health and Illness

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