Activist Mothering: The Moral-Political Work of Food Allergy Moms

Presented at American Anthropological Association meeting, Denver, CO, November 2015

Abstract: With food allergies on the rise among children in the United States, peanut bans in the classroom and epinephrine auto-injector cabinets in the nurse’s office are becoming commonplace features of the public school environment. Self-described “allergy moms” are driving these changes, by turns learning and teaching each other how to leverage disability law and networks of scientific experts to push other adults to contribute to the project of caring for their children through instigating changes in school policies. Their work turns on an ontological shift in the meaning of “food allergy”: from a somatic disease situated in individual patients to a disability conception of the condition as disabling only in the context of dysfunction, discriminatory social worlds. This talk will examine the strategies allergy moms use to enlist other adults as competent caretakers for food allergic kids while maintaining that there is nothing “wrong” with children with food allergies. In doing so, it will draw on Cheryl Mattingly’s recent work on parental “ground projects” to argue that these political and ontological maneuvers are, at their core, deeply moral.