Families and Food in Hard Times at ‘Child and Youth Poverty: Contexts, concepts and consequences’

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Today, 16th September 2016, Abigail Knight, one of the UK study team, presents early findings from our qualitative research in England at the Leeds Centre for Interdisciplinary Childhood and Youth Research inaugural conference, ‘Child and Youth Poverty: Contexts, concepts and consequences’. Abigail will discuss Young people’s food experiences in contexts of poverty and gentrification.

‘Eating the same food as others is a basic mark of belonging’ (Stone, 1988: 71). The sociality and commensality of food and eating are widely acknowledged as central to food practices and as we know from Townsend’s definition of poverty: ‘individuals, families and groups can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least are widely encouraged and approved, in the societies to which they belong’ (Townsend 1979: 32).

This paper explores the experiences of children and young people living in very low income households as they relate to issues of social participation and food practices. It draws on some preliminary findings from a study called ‘Food and families in hard times’, which is funded by the European Research Council and investigating food poverty of children and families in the UK, Norway and Portugal. In all three countries qualitative interviews are being carried out with 45 families of 11-15 year olds. In the UK these are taking place in a London borough and a coastal town, both areas with high poverty rates but increasing gentrification.

The narratives of the young people reveal food as a multi-layered experience: stories of secrecy and social exclusion at school, particularly at meal times; hunger and visits to food banks; and a sense of disconnectedness from local neighbourhoods which they perceive as dangerous or, with increasing numbers of expensive cafes and food shops, out of reach as they lack the resources to access them. On the other hand, despite the constraints of their circumstances, the young people also reveal the strength of peer and family relationships in relation to food, including sharing and reciprocity.

Stone, D. (1988) Policy Paradox and Political Reason. Glenview, IL, Scott Foresman and Company.

Townsend, P. (1979) Poverty in the United Kingdom.  Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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