Date of Award

Winter 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jayson Seaman

Second Advisor

Cliff Brown

Third Advisor

Erin Sharp


School lunch is a universal experience for students everywhere and yet remains largely understudied by educational researchers. This dissertation explores school lunch through the lens of adolescent identity theory, with the purpose of investigating the unarticulated and overlooked complexities inherent in the lunch block, from issues of the developing sense of self, to social and cultural meanings surrounding food, and consequences for social reproduction. I used a combination of ethnographic observations and narrative interviews at a rural New England high school, focusing on participants’ daily habits, food practices, and choices during the lunch block. Through this, I established the normative routines of the cafeteria and examined the ways in which participants deviated from these norms. I also investigated the complex intersection of adolescent development with matters of food, social class, peer relations, and individuals’ increasing maturation and autonomy. Through this study and review of the current literature, I argue that school lunch plays a multifaced role in students’ lives. Not only does school lunch provide daily nutrition and a break from the classroom, but moreover serves as a site where adolescents navigate their social world in ways that inform and prepare them for their adult lives. For the field of educational research, understanding the role the lunchroom plays in this forming social and self-awareness is consequential to grasping the complexity of the period of adolescence.