Between careful and crazy: the emotion work of feeding the family in an industrialized food system

Norah MacKendrick, Teja Pristavec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Mothers are under tremendous pressure to feed children wholesome meals–a job that requires careful attention to every ingredient on a child’s plate. They are also urged to restrain how much they control what children eat as part of modeling ease and detachment toward food and eating. In this paper, we explore how mothers navigate this contradictory advice to determine an appropriately careful and relaxed approach to feeding children. Drawing from interviews with a diverse sample of thirty mothers, we find that women distance themselves from two extreme food femininities: the “fast food mother” and the “crazy organic mother.” The latter extreme is most relevant to the middle-class mothers in our study. These mothers employ specific emotional and communicative strategies to maintain careful control over their children’s diet without evoking too much anxiety, or alienating friends, fellow parents, and relatives who are part of their everyday food routines. We argue that mothers are caught in an impossible bind: circumvent the industrial food system without becoming too obsessive. Our study contributes to the literature on calibration, motherhood, and feeding the family by revealing the substantial emotion work required to meet the cultural expectations of healthy eating and “perfect balance.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-463
Number of pages18
JournalFood, Culture and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 8 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies


  • Cooking
  • children
  • family
  • femininity
  • foodwork
  • gender
  • interviews
  • organic food


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