Foodwork and Mother Blaming as Gender Devices

with Luisa Stagi and Sebastiano Benasso


The naturalization of the link between nourishment and femininity has distant roots, and even though it has changed modes in different eras and cultures, the ritual of the meal remains a domestic rite that reinforces group belonging and gender socialization. Nonetheless, in today’s neo-liberal society, family conviviality also takes on other meanings.

In a society marked by individual responsibility and the end of welfare, in which the lean body is synonymous with good citizenship, the family becomes a privileged place for the application of nutritional science. The mother takes on the role of the “family health guardian,” in line with a division of gender roles no longer justified according to the genderized vision of roles, but increasingly often lived and narrated as a choice.

This is why in the workfare system the concept of foodwork is useful to highlight the stickier aspects of food-related care work, and the dynamics of mother blaming help us to explore the attribution of blame that awaits those who fail in one of the fundamental tasks of being a “good neo-liberal citizen.”