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

Applicant Ballif Edmee
Number 191275
Funding scheme Early Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Centre for Parenting Culture Studies School of Social Policy University of Kent
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Sociology
Start/End 01.11.2020 - 30.04.2022
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Keywords (6)

alternative food regimes; child feeding; food studies; parenting; veganism; gender

Lay Summary (French)

De plus en plus de familles adoptent des régimes alimentaires alternatifs comme le véganisme dans le monde et en Suisse. Ce phénomène a engendré des controverses quant aux risques et aux bénéfices pour la santé des enfants, comme le révèlent les diverses prises de positions du corps médical ou d'activistes. Il existe pourtant très peu de recherches en sciences sociales sur le sujet du véganisme chez les enfants, et le cas suisse est particulièrement mal connu.
Lay summary

Cette recherche analyse les controverses contemporaines autour du véganisme chez les enfants en Suisse. Le projet repose sur l'analyse de trois types de données (documents écrits, entretiens et observation) récoltées auprès de trois groupes d'acteurs-trices (expert-e-s de la santé, activistes, parents). Il s'agira de comprendre comment les discours en circulation problématisent le véganisme chez les enfants. Les objectifs de la recherche sont: d'identifier les différentes représentations du véganisme chez les enfants ; d’identifier les motivations soutenant les recommandations d'adopter ou rejeter ce régime ; d’analyser si et comment les discours sur le véganisme font appel à des arguments identitaires basés sur la nation ou la classe; d’analyser les représentations, notamment genrées, des rôles parentaux.
Ce projet pourra contribuer aux discussions sociales actuelles sur les pratiques alimentaires et la parentalité, puisqu’il jette la lumière sur un phénomène peu étudié et pourtant très présent dans les médias. Les résultats pourront contribuer au développement des politiques de santé à l'égard des familles. Puisque les pratiques alimentaires et la parentalité sont deux vecteurs importants de reproduction des inégalités sociales, une perspective sociologique sur le sujet aidera à en visibiliser les enjeux.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 23.09.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
202925 Milk wars: Gender, class and nation in contemporary parenting culture 01.05.2022 Postdoc.Mobility


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.