We are a team of six authors from Germany, the US, and India with backgrounds in socio-cultural anthropology and cultural psychology. Our book explores multifaceted linkages between culturally specific feeding practices and human bonding based on ethnographic case studies from Morocco, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Costa Rica.
A comparative analysis of our ethnographic research demonstrates that there are many culturally valued ways of feeding children, contradicting the idea of a single, universally best feeding standard. We show that in many parts of the world feeding plays a central role in human bonding and relationship formation, something largely overlooked by attachment theory and related approaches. Our analysis further demonstrates that feeding contributes to relationship formation through different socio-emotional dimensions, which we label proximal, transactional, and distal. Each of these relates to a specific aspect of the feeding relationship (e.g., physical intimacy, food as a life-sustaining gift, conviviality) and is experienced by qualitatively distinct emotions. Finally, we argue that feeding practices can lead to different forms of relationships. Through feeding and eating together, caregivers express core values about how different generations should relate to each other. In our research sites, intergenerational feeding relationships are either hierarchically organized, or characterized by a mix of egalitarian and hierarchical orientations.