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Feeding, Educating, Dieting: a Transnational Approach to Nutrition Discourses in Children’s Narratives (Britain and Italy, 1850-1900)

Project description

Childhood nutrition in the 19th century

Childhood malnutrition is a pressing health concern but its origins trace back to the late 19th century in Europe when food cultures across the Continent also helped formulate national identities. The EU-funded Feeding, Education Dieting programme, otherwise known by its acronym FED, focuses on a comparative qualitative analysis of malnutrition narratives in children's literature in Britain and Italy between 1850 and 1900. The project narratives centre on the core features of characters eating and starving, relaying also dominant discourse in gender role, social influence and health in body and mind. The project will help address current European issues on child malnutrition, promoting international collaborations in research.


‘Feeding, Educating, Dieting’ (FED) is a comparative qualitative analysis of mal/nutrition narratives, i.e. images of characters eating/fasting, in 1850-1900 British and Italian children's literature. Adopting a new historicist and discourse theory approach to comparative reading of British and Italian narratives, the project examines nineteenth-century trans/national discourses about child mal/nutrition and assesses children’s literature’s role in circulating these discourses.
Child mal/nutrition is an increasingly concerning health issue in Europe, which prompted the EU to draw the Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020. Concern for this transnational issue can be traced back to the late-Nineteenth century, a definitional moment for national identities. Countries with different histories and food cultures addressed the idea of growing a healthy nation looking at the raising middle-class values in a process that engaged food, health, and literature. Using England and Italy as a case study, FED examines a selection of 1850-1900 Italian and British narratives to develop a framework to analyse the circulation of nineteenth-century child mal/nutrition discourses through children's fiction, highlighting their transnational nature. 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.
As an expert in the application of new historicism and discourse theory to Victorian fiction, in FED I apply my main theoretical framework to the traditional comparative approach used in children’s literature studies to increase our understanding of how literature and food culture merge in national identity discourses. On a larger scale, FED promotes discussion on how literary studies can address current European issues such as child mal/nutrition and promotes international collaborative research on the topic.



Net EU contribution
€ 183 473,28
Dorsoduro 3246
30123 Venezia

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Nord-Est Veneto Venezia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00