Competing food messages and its appropriation by children at schools and its surroundings


School menus represent a rational approach to eating, following nutritional expertise and food safety standards, but children are exposed to food offers that compete with the school menus. In this paper we intend to understand how competing and contradictory rationalities related to food are expressed in concrete visual sights and representations of food, made available to children in school canteens and food shops in the surroundings of schools, and appropriated by them.

The empirical data was collected in four primary and secondary public schools in the area of Lisbon. Food-related sights, messages and images displayed at schools and in its surrounding commercial food outlets were subject to analysis, together with data from interviews with school directs and kitchen staff, and focus groups with parents and children, and direct observation.

Results show sharp contrasts between sights and representations of food at school canteens and at commercial food outlets outside schools. Data also suggests that subjection to supervision, control and normatively discourse of diner ladies in the canteens stand out against autonomy, freedom and self-management of food purchases in the street. Parents approve and even encourage their children to eat outside the school, as it seems a way of experiencing life, gaining autonomy, socialising and exhibiting a higher social position relatively to their peers.

Publication associated with Project Entre a Escola e a Família: Conhecimento e Práticas Alimentares em Crianças com Idade Escolar.