Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Donald Robotham

Committee Members

Ida Susser

Jeff Maskovsky

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


food, gender, middle class, parenting, politics, Philadelphia


This dissertation provides an ethnographic account of the food and parenting practices of a diverse group of middle-class families in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. It starts from the basic premise that the economic pressures on the American middle classes find expression in family life around the socially reproductive work of choosing food and parenting.

The current economic climate marked with extreme and rising income inequality, low growth, high unemployment and stagnating wages has complicated the reproduction process for all parents in this study, regardless of income. Scholars have described how this concern for the future of the next generation is expressed in intensive parenting strategies and I show that this concern is also expressed in a preoccupation with food. This is because the task of choosing food in America today confronts consumers with many of the harmful excesses of the capitalist system that are also responsible for the middle-class squeeze and second, because food is connected to class status, and thus the future prospects of the next generation, in various ways.

The dissertation describes how parents’ strategies for eating and getting children to eat in a way that promotes class appropriate health and body size, taste preferences and the right politics vary among self-described middle-class families of different means. It describes the subsequent variations in the experience of middle-class family life, including the household division of labor by gender, and the different dilemmas and contradictions that emerge for mothers and fathers in different middle-class fractions. Motivated by a desire to move beyond critical rejections of middle-class reproductive strategies as inherently neoliberal, self-centered, exclusionary and apolitical, the dissertation ends with a discussion of the hidden political potential of the visceral experience of precarity, in combination with broad middle-class critiques of the American food system and the commons-like social networks that emerge in response to the challenging conditions in the lives of middle-class parents in decline.