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Introduction

Feast: Consuming Children marks a junction in the journal’s development, between the ‘Spaces for Eating’ series and the forthcoming ‘Commodities’ series. It seems appropriate to position children’s culture as the seam between these two phases. Children have often been consigned to the margins, inbetween or outside of adult driven discourses politically, economically and culturally. Youth culture is both derided and feared, yet its importance is anything but marginal, as we have been reminded by recent waves of youth-led activism from Malala Yousafzai to #MarchForOurLives, and the resurgence of adult interest in children’s literature in the twenty years since the publication of the first Harry Potter book. Perhaps, more directly in relation to the seam of Feast’s development, children are both consumers and consumed: they occupy and create spaces for eating while simultaneously being commodified.

Food is a powerful and versatile force in children’s literature, standing in for familial love, sexual relationships, deprivation and excess, denial, shame and control. In this issue of Feast, we seek to examine the tension between children as consumers and children as consumable, recognising that the figure of the child can perform as both actor and goal in food-related transactions. The critical and creative work in this edition traces the role played by food in children’s and youth culture from folk and fairytales through to contemporary picturebooks and the vlogs of urban wanderers. We hear from adults on their formative childhood eating habits, explore current efforts around educating children on sustainable food futures and the nurturing aspects of feeding children in a parental role. Academic contributions highlight the importance of food in relationships, especially between women where food features as both daily ritual and site of intense and intimate power struggles. In addition, the artistic contributions draw upon childhood associations of food and eating from the memory and visceral feeding of infants to an exploratory learning of flavours, textures and tastes.

The themes that we see emerging around food in children’s culture often hark back to food lore of earlier times. The Land of Cockaigne and other fictional lands of plenty were once thought to have a radical function that is somehow now blunted by their association with childhood. As Herman Pleij writes in his seminal work on medieval food fantasies, “Nowadays Cockaigne… is a child’s paradise, with heaps of candy as high as houses and roof tiles made of pancakes… a mere shadow of the dazzling Cockaigne of the Middle Ages, now faded and relegated to the realm of child’s play.”1 The suggestion that there is no radicalism to be found in the food cultures of childhood is typically made by those who have spent little time considering them. As the work in this edition shows, there is nothing simple or insignificant about the relationship between consumption and childhood.

As editors we also want to convey the timely political resonance of this edition. In recent months reports have emerged of children hoarding extra food from school meals – the same school meals that the government no longer think worthy of funding.2 Children are disproportionately affected by food insecurity and poverty, yet food and hunger are not forces that act upon passive children. Throughout Feast: Consuming Children we see children negotiating and shaping a variety of food landscapes. Through foraging, cooking, purchasing, curating, and even poisoning, children show a unique agency and creativity in their food practices.

In an effort to reach audiences of all ages and appeal to the children this edition speaks of, the content includes a poem originally written for CreativeMe, a writing competition run by Pearson Publishing in partnership with Virtual Schools for children in care and a downloadable child’s colouring book in response to the issue themes by illustrator Mick Marston, as well as a simple recipe for all ages to follow by Chicago based chef Abeer Najjar.

Additional contributors include: artists Edwina Ashton, Max Margulies and Naoko Masuda, Niamh Riordan, Sneha Solanki and Urara Tsuchiya; writers Caitriona Devery, William Thompson; and academics Christopher Owen, Amie Rose Rotruck, Dawn Sardella-Ayres, Amy Webster and Rose Williamson.

Finally, we would like to thank the peer reviewers Malin Alkestrand, Michelle Anya Anjirbag, Will Carr, Phoebe Chen, Lina Lordanaki, Angelica Michelis and Ashley Reese for their time, advice and support of the edition.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

Herman Pleij. Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life. New York: Columbia University Press 2001, 5.

Go to footnote reference 2.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43611527