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Feasting and Food Security: Negotiating Infant and Child Feeding in Urban and Peri-Urban Vanuatu

Wentworth Fournier, Chelsea (2015) Feasting and Food Security: Negotiating Infant and Child Feeding in Urban and Peri-Urban Vanuatu. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This research analyzes how feasting has become a widespread coping mechanism for addressing food insecurity in urban and peri-urban Vanuatu. By examining hunger and food security in cultural context (including how these health-related issues are defined, diagnosed, treated and managed), a detailed assessment of the social and structural factors that influence mothers’ decisions about appropriate infant and child feeding is presented. Responding to 1) biomedically driven pressures from health care workers and 2) familial and community pressures about appropriate childcare and nutritional practices, mothers create syncretic meanings of “good” and “bad” foods, hunger and satiety, and childhood malnutrition. However, mothers’ mechanisms for identifying and treating malnutrition satisfy neither health care practitioners nor extended kin networks.
Based on 12 months of anthropological fieldwork in 2010 and 2012-13 in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and its peri-urban areas, this research employed semi-structured interviews (N=83), dietary journals (N=32), surveys (N=71), visual-cognitive elicitation (a photography project N=28) and extensive participant observation. Participants with at least one child under age five were drawn from: 1) women living in Port Vila and the peri-urban areas with some full-time employment, 2) women living in Port Vila and the peri-urban areas with intermittent access to the cash economy, and 3) women from rural Efate who have little access to commercial food and lack the economic opportunities of families living in Port Vila.
Concepts of “malnutrition,” “food security,” “good” foods, and “feasting” are problematized. As health care practitioners and caregivers define malnutrition and food security in cultural context, results exemplify how children’s foodways have become a negotiation between nutrition and customary practice. Results illustrate that customary feasts in modern times and urban places create new patterns of resource distribution, gifting, and appropriate feast foods, and as a consequence increase food security for children. The research has significance in two primary domains: 1) it contributes theoretically to medical anthropology by linking the two previously disparate concepts of feasting and food security, and 2) it has practical applications for the problem of hunger in urban areas by revealing the importance of community networks and kastom practice on coping mechanisms for food insecurity.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wentworth Fournier, Chelseacwm23@pitt.eduCWM23
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairScaglion, Richardscaglion@pitt.eduSCAGLION
Committee MemberAlter, Josephjsalter@pitt.eduJSALTER
Committee MemberConstable, Nicolencgrad@pitt.eduNCGRAD
Committee MemberSanabria, Harrysanabria@pitt.eduSANABRIA
Committee MemberTerry, Marthamaterry@pitt.eduMATERRY
Date: 14 January 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 October 2014
Approval Date: 14 January 2015
Submission Date: 2 December 2014
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 420
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Food Security; Feasting; Nutritional Syndemics; Visual-Cognitive Elicitation; Pacific Islands
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2015 16:56
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 06:15


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