Primary Source


baby food


The material culture of early childhood in the 21st century is characterized by an emphasis on biological age and related levels of cognitive and motor skill development. All types of objects, including diapers, toys, food products, and clothing, are divided into categories based on the age-appropriateness of a particular object. Descriptions of these categories commonly explain how each object functions to enable a child to attain a particular skill or reach a developmental milestone. Appeals to medical and developmental science are common. Foods are marketed along an age grade that progress a child through various stages of development (e.g., Newborn, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, One Year etc.), with each stage requiring different nutritional needs to promote appropriate development. They also emphasize the physiological development of children in each stage and what an infant is capable of eating in these earliest periods of development. A secondary concern in products is their "naturalness" or an emphasis on not containing ingredients that might be harmful to proper development and health. It is far rarer to have food marketed for things that we as adults find valuable- taste and appeal for example- which tend to be highly individualized. Scholarship on childhood has shown that emphases on biological development are particular to contemporary western cultures and tends to reinforce ideas that childhood is a "natural" or "universal" experience regardless of time period or cultural context. Individual children, however, may experience their own developmental trajectories. Anthropological research with children from different cultures has shown that developmental sequences vary widely as different cultural settings place particular demands on the mental and physical development of young children.

This source is a part of the Material Culture and Childhood (20th c.) teaching module.


Annotated by Jane Eva Baxter.

How to Cite This Source

"Food," in World History Commons, [accessed February 22, 2024]