Toying Around: The Evolution of Food Toys in America

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Chiang, Alice
Toys are a large part of any childhood, at an early age they can teach math and reading, inspire imaginations and encourage social behaviors. Food toys are especially interesting because they intersect the world of childhood play and food culture. Mr. Potato Head, the Easy-Bake Oven and Pac Man are all examples of food toys that encourage children to “play with your food” while simultaneously shaping consumption habits. Food toys are a great point study because for children, it is one of the earliest forms of exposure to our food system. Given the current issues with childhood obesity and other diet-related diseases, it’s helpful to look at how food toys influence food perceptions. My research paper approaches food toys from two different perspectives: the history of food toys and the business of selling food toys. I first explore the world of food toys over the past sixty years, and attempt to find correlations to the changing food landscape. For the second part of my research, I examine the toy industry focusing in particular on marketing and branding strategies geared towards children. The findings from this research reveal that food toys have shifted from an object of play to advertising mediums for the food industry. However, food toys as a means to encourage healthy consumption behaviors is possible. Additional research into this unique and fun niche of food play will serve to inform future interventions in childhood health and wellness.
Food & Health panel