What is FED?
How children's literature channelled child mal/nutrition discourses in the late XIX century in countries of diverse historical backgrounds
Child mal/nutrition is an increasingly concerning health issue in Europe: it manifests itself through rising percentages of obese/overweight children and has prompted the EU to draw the Action Plan on Childhood Obesity. The Plan identifies poverty, unhealthy lifestyles, and parental unawareness as core causes of child malnutrition and calls for the development of national initiatives to target them. This picture highlights the issue’s transnational nature: while showing locality-specific traits (e.g. varying obesity percentages or prominence of a causing factor), the concern is relevant for countries of diverse cultural and historical backgrounds. England and Italy are a case in point: one was perceived in the 19th century as a ‘mature’ and the other a ‘young’ nation (Italy was ‘born’ as a nation only in 1861) with different food cultures. Yet, nutrition and children rights groups in both countries identify poverty, parents’ education level, and fresh versus processed food distribution among the chief causes of child malnutrition and emphasise the family’s core role ("UK and global malnutrition: the new normal" and "Bambini e adolescenti tra nutrizione e malnutrizione [ITA]").
The current discussion involves parents, pediatricians and nutritionists. Its roots, however, are to be found much further back in the past to the late-Nineteenth century. In this crucial moment for the development or the consolidation of national identities, countries with different histories and food cultures addressed the idea of growing a healthy nation looking at the raising middle-class values; it is at this time that child nutrition starts taking shape as a clinical concept.
This process coincides with one of the most productive moments of children's literature as a genre; starting from the principle that literature and its context are powerfully connected, FED explores how children's literature became a tool to engage with, and circulate, discourses about child mal/nutrition and how this phenomenon was peculiarly transnational in nature.
Using Great Britain and Italy as a case study, FED examines a selection of 1850-1900 Italian and British children's narratives to develop a framework to analyse the circulation of nineteenth-century child mal/nutrition discourses through children's fiction. This framework will outline the core features of characters eating/starving in the selected narratives and unpack how these conveyed dominant discourses about gender roles, social power, and the healthy body/mind.
This website showcases FED's goals and progress and is meant as a tool to promote discussion about children's literature and child nutrition at an international level. It will be updated as FED itself progresses.