Publication Details

Welch, R., McMahon, S. & Wright, J. E. (2012). The medicalisation of food pedagogies in primary schools and popular culture: A case for awakening subjugated knowledges. Discourse, 33 (5), 713-728.


In this paper we interrogate the ways nutrition and health have become increasingly influential to children’s everyday life practices and conceptualizations of food. We challenge the orthodoxy of meanings afforded to food that draw a distinct binary between ‘good’/‘bad’ or ‘healthy’/‘unhealthy’; ideas widely promulgated in health texts, popular culture and pedagogical practice. Whilst these dominant medico-scientific discourses are pervasive in accounts of food, they are not the only meanings that permeate the popular cultural and pedagogical landscape; for instance, there has been a burgeoning interest in culinary cooking programs and food sustainability in recent years. In this paper, we use Foucault’s notion of biopower to trace the various ways food is governed through interventions; pedagogised by popular culture; and, taken up in school policies and practices. We draw on interviews with 32 Year 5 students from Australian public and private primary schools. Not surprisingly, the analysis demonstrates how students reiterated food as a practice of ‘temptation’ and ‘risk’, similar to nutrition based knowledge of food circulated in popular culture and health programs. This suggests that other meanings of food are often socially and pedagogically marginalised. We argue that because of the perceived risk attached to food practices, these young people see food as an object of guilt and a reason for self-surveillance. After discussing the results we consider some of the consequences for young peoples’ sense of self and their relationships with food in every day life, particularly in light of the perilous effects of deeming food as ‘good’/‘bad’ from such a young age. As a point of departure we explore some of the subjugated knowledges that can be brought to the table of food pedagogies in schools in order to bring about a broader assemblage of food ‘truths’.

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