There’s a cupboard full of pasta! Beyond sustenance: reflections on youth work and commensality

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Commensality is an area of inquiry concerned with practices of eating and, in particular, eating at a shared table, often explored through ethnographic studies of ritual and culture (Fischler, 2011). This article seeks to reflect on youth work in relation to commensality. Youth work is a practice of open access, informal education with young people that generally takes place in youth clubs or in detached or street-based settings, where young people interact with youth workers by choice. We consider practices of food sharing observed in youth work settings, their meaning, and their value beyond sustenance. When viewed through the lens of commensality, practices of food sharing in youth work settings can be articulated as a conscious method of practice, we argue, in need of further discussion. We explore this aspect of practice in youth work settings based on informal learning, social development, and abundance; considering the tensions youth workers face against a backdrop of austerity, child poverty and the neoliberal impact of the reduction of youth services. Despite this we contend that there is value in identifying, locating, and articulating the relationship between commensality and youth work. Drawing on research across eight different youth work settings in England, this article positions youth work as a site of commensal experience for young people and youth workers, extending the discourse around youth work and creating links with other areas of inquiry such as anthropology, sociology, informal education, and community development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2021


  • Food
  • commensality
  • youth work
  • austerity


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