Unpacking the lunchbox: the social meanings of food and eating at school
LE3 .A278 2023
Bachelor of Arts
This thesis explores the social meaning of school foods and eating at a rural elementary school in Nova Scotia in January 2023 from the perspective of children, mothers, and select school staff. It explores this topic as an element of the sociology of everyday life and draws from theory and literature that explores the socio-cultural relations of food and eating in the family and at school. The study used an ethnography approach that included participant observation of children over two days during times food was being consumed, and during a directed art activities about school foods and eating in a grade 2/3 classroom. Interviews with four mothers and three school staff were also conducted. The data reveals that foods and care work are markers of social status and communal mealtimes as sites of status exchange. It also shows how the current arrangement of how children eat at this school creates the conditions for the varied meanings of good food and bad food. The dichotomous items serve as status markers when school food is produced through the food provisioning of unequally resourced families, and through the social process of children eating together within an institution. I conclude that ethnographic research with children reveals new insights about children and adults’ perceptions of school food, in that their experiences differ greatly. While there are clearly class based distinctions in the lunches mothers produce based on social class that are transmitted through the objects and care labour, children can find meanings of care regardless of their social class – for them the meaning of the lunch is negotiated among peer groups and influenced by the commercial food environment, and the organization of mealtime in school institutions - suggesting that children embody their own food habitus at school, and use food as cultural capital in ways that are different from adults.
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