Treats, Transgressions and Transformations: Navigating Understandings of Sweet-eating in 6 Families

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Inspired initially by James’ (1998: 402) assertion that sweets are the ‘metaphorical food of childhood’ and located theoretically in work which argues that children are capable commentators on their own lives as well as reproducers and co-creators of culture, this paper aims to examine the narratives of young children and families around their sweet-eating practices.
Sweets are of especial interest as they occupy a liminal space as both a food - in that they are usually incorporated into the body - and non-food as they transgress many of the usual ‘rules’ associated with food, notably the way they are rarely eaten during a structured food event such as mealtimes. Generally regarded as ‘bad’ nutritionally, for many children especially, sweets are significant as they are entwined with their social relations and embedded in both the culture of their particular family and their peer group as well as being firmly located within a particular time, space and culture (e.g. Easter eggs).
Drawing on interview data with family members (6 families, 19 people in total, children aged between 2-11 years), my intention is to elaborate on three themes which emerged from the family narratives; sweets as treats as well as their association with transgressions and transformations. What emerges from the data is parents and children navigating a range of different meanings related to sweets and sweet eating. Family stories around the hiding, stealing and swapping of sweets will be explored as well as stories linked to their real and imaginary properties for transformation. I will argue that sweets offer children an opportunity for choice-making and play-making around notions of ‘real’ and ‘pretend’ unlike other foods. And more broadly, an examination of sweet eating provides a lens through which to examine family encounters around food.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2017
EventBritish Sociological Association SIG Food Group conference - University of Westminster, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 201727 Jun 2017


ConferenceBritish Sociological Association SIG Food Group conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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