Food and Poverty: Food Insecurity and Food Sovereignty among America's Poor

Food and Poverty: Food Insecurity and Food Sovereignty among America's Poor

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Overview


Food insecurity rates, which skyrocketed with the Great Recession, have yet to fall to pre-recession levels. Food pantries are stretched thin, and states are imposing new restrictions on programs like SNAP that are preventing people from getting crucial government assistance. At the same time, we see an increase in obesity that results from lack of access to healthy foods. The poor face a daily choice between paying bills and paying for food.


Table of Contents

Introduction

Part One—Concepts:
  • Security via Sovereignty: Lessons from the Global South | Myriam Paredes and Mark Edwards
  • Can You Put Food on the Table? Redefining Poverty in America | Maureen Berner and Alexander Vazquez
  • Food, Poverty, and Lifestyle Patterns: How Diversity Matters | Michael Jindra and Nicolas Larchet

Part Two—Problems:
  • Food Spending Profiles for White, Black, and Hispanic Households Living in Poverty | Raphaël Charron-Chénier
  • The Geography of Risk: A Case Study of Food Insecurity, Poverty, and Food Assistance between the Urban and the Rural | Michael D. Gillespie
  • Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Health among Youth | Don Willis and Kevin M. Fitzpatrick
  • The Role of Coupons in Exacerbating Food Insecurity and Obesity | Kaitland M. Byrd, W. Carson Byrd, and Samuel R. Cook
  • The Rise and Falter of Emergency Food Assistance | Jennifer W. Bouek
  • The Complex Challenges to Participation in Federal Nutrition Programs | Rachel Wilkerson, Kathy Krey, and Linda English
  • Access to Food Assistance for Food Insecure Seniors | Marie C. Gualtieri
  • Food Deserts and Injustice: Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Food Sovereignty in Three Rust Belt Cities | Stephen J. Scanlan and Sam Regas
  • Shifting Access to Food: Food Deserts in Atlanta, 1980-2010 | Gloria Ross and Bill Winders

Part Three—Solutions:
  • Together at the Table: The Power of Public-Private Partnerships to Alleviate Hunger | Erin Nolen, Jeremy Everett, Doug McDurham, and Kathy Krey
  • Race, Class, Privilege, and Bias in South Florida Food Movements | Marina Karides and Patricia Widener
  • Food Insecurity in Southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan: How Our Kitchen Table Is Building Food Justice in the Face of Profiteering and Exclusionary Practices | Christy Mello
  • Community Leadership and Participation to Increase Food Access and Quality: Notes from the Field | Ameena Batada and Olufemi Lewis
  • Hunger in the Land of Plenty: Local Responses to Food Insecurity in Iowa | Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, Jacqueline Nester, Andrea Basche, Eric Christianson, and Emily Zimmerman
  • Food Pantries on College and University Campuses: An Emerging Solution to Food Insecurity | Carmel E. Price and Natalie R. Sampson

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826522047
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
Publication date: 09/24/2018
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author


Leslie Hossfeld is Dean of the College of Behavioral, Social, and Health Sciences at Clemson University.


E. Brooke Kelly is Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.


Julia Waity is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Security via Sovereignty

Lessons from the Global South

MYRIAM PAREDES AND MARK EDWARDS

The American shopper walking down a grocery store aisle naively participates in a food system full of ironies and unintended consequences. If asked to interpret the contrast between great volumes of food on the shelves and the request at the cash register for contributions to the food bank, a thoughtful person will quickly recognize the most blatant of ironies — a country that produces mass quantities of food and pays farmers to stop producing too much is also a country with 17.4 million food insecure households (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, and Singh 2015). But beyond this glaring contradiction, the complexities and frequent dysfunctions of the country's provisioning remain a mystery. One reason for shoppers' naiveté is the dominance of food security "thinking" about the feeding of populations and the lack of awareness of an alternative food sovereignty theoretical framework. In this chapter we highlight the distinctions, connections, and implications of these frameworks, advocating for a more thoughtful approach to understanding the feeding of the United States by incorporating the strengths of food sovereignty, a concept embraced by South Americans in their constitutions.

Consider another apparent contradiction. From a food security point of view, high rates of obesity and diabetes among poor Americans are nonintuitive, especially given that in other countries poverty can lead to stunted growth and gaunt faces. But a food sovereignty lens brings into focus the fact that powerful interests arrange for government-subsidized commodities that keep prices low on calorie-intensive, nutrition-poor diets, while healthy fruits and vegetables remain unsubsidized, more expensive, and therefore more accessible to middle and upper classes.

The sovereignty lens also reveals ironies inherent in the production and delivery components of the food system. For example, sometimes, the same trucks that transport organic produce from the rural "salad-bowl" areas to the cities are the same ones that bring back from port cities the less expensive canned produce gathered and processed elsewhere, at times from halfway around the world. So, rural farmworkers in the United States use their meager wages not to purchase the food they cultivated and harvested, but instead to buy food that other farmworkers produced more cheaply elsewhere. Even stranger, low-income workers and the unemployed, both in remote rural and in densely urban places, often find themselves in the midst of food deserts; that is, they live in places that lack a wide variety of affordable, quality foods and instead are full of cheap, highly processed foods. Supermarkets may choose to avoid urban ghettos, or not stock their stores with the same quality produce owing to economic and transportation obstacles, while little country stores are often so remote that food distribution companies decide not to deliver fresh dairy, bread, or produce to such small markets.

Further ironies appear when a sovereignty lens is used to consider the food access concerns of low-wage, working Americans. For example, many of the low-income inhabitants of these urban food deserts work in "food service" while low-income workers in rural places are often engaged in cultivating, harvesting, and packing food. In both rural and urban areas of the northwestern United States, food service workers have been among the highest represented workers among food insecure households (Grussing and Edwards 2006). Meanwhile, at the end of the food chain, consumers who work in retail (such as Walmart) often earn wages so low that they must turn to federal assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP), providing them modest funds to purchase food, often from the very employers who pay them low wages.

The computer-precise and remarkably organized food-delivery system that daily feeds multitudes with safe, if not always healthy, food also displays occasional unintended consequences that achieve notoriety in the media. For example, the same amazingly efficient industrial food complex that distributes massive quantities to most parts of the country and the world also produces large outbreaks of food-borne illnesses when food safety is compromised. One bad crop of cantaloupes or batch of ice cream contaminated with Listeria (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015b) or one side of beef infected with "mad cow disease" (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015a) can put at risk thousands of consumers because indeed millions of consumers partake of the rationalized system that so widely distributes cantaloupes, ice cream, and hamburger from and to all parts of the country. From a food security point of view, such problems may be regarded as unavoidable collateral damage that can be minimized with ever-greater technological improvements. With a food sovereignty lens, one may instead ask if perhaps there are alternate possibilities to access more localized food via community or family gardens, relying on closer providers or markets that need little to no public intervention.

Finally, federal public policy focused on food systems in the United States (a country whose constitution emphasizes the separation of powers) has ironically placed one agency (the US Department of Agriculture, USDA) in charge of advocating for both producers and consumers. Because food industry companies are organized and resource rich, they can influence decision makers more readily than can the poor, leading to a situation akin to putting foxes in charge of the hen house (to borrow a food metaphor). Agribusiness and the food industry spend tens of millions of dollars each year on campaign contributions (for candidates sympathetic to the industry) and on lobbyists. The result is pressure on the USDA for subsidies on corn and beef and resistance to efforts to raise nutrition standards on school lunches. Debates over whether ketchup is a vegetable, and less silly but nonetheless contentious wrangling over revising the USDA's food pyramids, reveal how the USDA faces often irreconcilable goals and competing pressures from unequally matched constituents. So, one part of the USDA favors commodity producers (e.g., dairy industry) while another part of the agency is questioning the healthfulness of all that cheese on lunchroom pizza. A food security lens does not address such questions about who is deciding the menu of the poor but rather focuses on making sure that food is distributed widely. The sovereignty lens brings into relief these discontinuities and could remind Americans (a) that what they eat is largely determined by much bigger forces and vested interests and (b) that they could actively support their own interests regarding feeding their families.

American eaters of any class, but especially of working and lower classes, need not invent the critique and the questions on their own. They can learn from the efforts, successes, and failures of international movements seeking to ask these uncomfortable questions in countries where economic and political circumstances have made it possible to give voice to them. We focus on two South American examples. First, Ecuador, where unlike in the United States, the constitution of the country addresses food rights for producers and consumers, and the food system is explicitly called out as a vital part of society to be evaluated and debated through a deeply democratic process that creates new institutions of deliberation. The concept of food sovereignty plays a central role in the polity of the country although not without problems. Second, in Brazil, a food sovereignty framework takes center stage in that country's integrated, multipronged approach to creating food security for the population, while taking seriously the structural reasons for hunger. Brazil's Zero Hunger policy, like Ecuador's policy, includes the creation of institutions that allow the participation of the wider public in the design and implementation of local programs that include the support of local and regional producers. We begin by first elaborating on the food security and food sovereignty frameworks, describing how conflicting and/or compatible they are, before turning attention to these two South American examples and some of the lessons US eaters can learn from them.

Food Security and Food Sovereignty

Food Security: A Dominant but Incomplete Narrative

The concept of food security is almost as intuitive as hunger. No one wants to be hungry, and everyone wants the security of knowing that their next meal is assured. And most would likely wish for food security for their community, region, or country as well — a condition where there is plenty for all and assured access to that plenty in the future. Yet, as intuitive as this understanding of food security may be, there has remained a surprising amount of debate about, and number of differences in, definitions of food security.

In 1974, before food security in America was being widely discussed, growing international concern over world hunger led professional development bureaucrats and academics to establish a food security framework at the World Food Congress in Rome. Over the subsequent decades, the concept evolved as consensus grew that there should be internationally shared responsibility for national-level hunger, recognizing that the Green Revolution (i.e., large-scale technical improvements in agriculture that dramatically increased world production of crops) was not rapidly or automatically leading to reductions in poverty or malnutrition. Indeed, in some cases, that revolution may have increased hunger vulnerability in some countries (McIntyre et al. 2009). By 1996, at the World Food Congress, there was international acknowledgement of the social causes of hunger and an emerging recognition that access to food is a "universal right." Even with these changes, food security as the end goal remained and continues as the dominant framework for understanding the feeding of the world's population.

Examining official definitions of food security reveals the primary elements of a food security framework for understanding the feeding of countries. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations World Health Organization declared that "food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life" (Food and Agriculture Organization 2003, 28). This definition describes a condition where access is never in question, where quality is assured, and where culture is taken into account ("preferences"). Parsing the sentence reveals that "access" is what people have, and the remainder of the definition describes "what" they have access to. Note that it does not address production, processing, manufacturing, and sourcing of foods, leaving open the debate as to whether this condition of constant access is achievable through the current international food system. Some critics argue that this definition predisposes actions to be the development of technical solutions for production and delivery but without illuminating the sources of food insecurity, and hence the root causes of it.

In the United States, the concept of food security was introduced to decision makers in the mid-1990s by the USDA. The USDA continues to use a minimalist definition of food security that ignores many of the elements found in the FAO definition, describing it as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life" (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, and Singh 2015). Issues related to food preference, nutrition, safety, and means by which food is obtained are not explicitly included in the USDA definition nor in the official measure of food security used by the agency. The measure focuses primarily on respondents having enough money for purchasing food and ignores receipt of SNAP, food boxes, school breakfasts and lunches, or congregant meals. The definition emphasizes purchase rather than production or even eating, which, while shallow, is not unreasonable given the fact that most people do not produce any of their own food anyway.

But definitions of problems are not neutral. They are reflective of assumptions about the way the world works. When those assumptions are hidden, they exert power in unexamined ways. This is true of the international and domestic definitions of food security. The absence of attention to where food comes from, who decides what will be produced, who produces it, and at what cost hides issues that are ignored, yet deeply relevant to the low-income shopper, the diabetic, the child eating free and reduced-price lunch, the local grocer, and the small farmer. Evidence of just how shallow has been the food security framework, on its own, can be seen in the US response to growing rates of officially measured "food insecurity."

If contributions to food banks are any indication, the American public has increasingly come to believe that domestic hunger exists. Since the early 1990s, the collective response from citizens has not been to question the systems that provide food to the population, but rather it has been to give food and money to regional and local food banks (Poppendieck 1999). Initially, the USDA also responded by distributing agricultural excess through this same emergency food system. Further expansion of SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) also prioritizes money-for-food approaches without interrogating the processes that make some groceries more expensive than others, or that make some people more likely to be low income than others. These incomplete and narrow responses reflect what is possible with only a food security lens, which gives emphasis to making sure that low-income people have food in the cupboard but without evaluating the means by which the food is obtained, the quality of the food, and the larger vested interests that put low-income people into this situation.

Similarly, the food security framework's incomplete narrative about food and the systems that produce and deliver it sometimes positions antihunger workers and activists at cross-purposes, or at least having to navigate complicated food politics. For example, the nationwide organization Feeding America begins with a food security framework and impressively organizes the delivery of millions of pounds of donated food to people who are left hungry in the current system. While they are deeply engaged in research and advocacy that informs government decisions, they must refrain from directly criticizing large food producers and distributors who contribute to their hunger-relief efforts. (Imagine the public relations quandary of wishing to advocate for local, sustainably grown produce, instead of relying on canned, high-sodium vegetables from another country, when an industrial canner and distributor is willing to donate tons of canned produce.) Other advocacy organizations such as FRAC (Food Research and Action Center) more obviously lobby and advocate within the political system, but faced with resistance to food sovereignty critiques of the existing food production and delivery systems, they primarily focus on existing food security policies such as support for child nutrition services or protecting SNAP benefits.

The food security framework in the United States has achieved two important things while leaving unexamined others that we have previously mentioned. First, in the raising of public awareness of the extent of domestic hunger, the effort to measure food insecurity has made it possible to document annual federal and state rates of food insecurity, thus lending scientific credibility to claims that economic and policy changes may be impacting families' material well-being. In a country where obvious malnutrition is not evident to people and where shelves are full, having trustworthy statistics to document the number of struggling families has assisted advocates in making the case to decision makers and the public that a problem exists. Second, the concept of food security is not inherently partisan (compared to "food sovereignty," which immediately elicits questions of power). By focusing on provision of sufficient calories, this framework permits people on the political left and right to seek to address it, whether through defending government programs on the left or advocating for more private charity on the right. However, this framing has left unexamined the influence of vested interests, has individuated the problem rather than addressed structural reasons for it, and has ignored nonmarket solutions.

(Continues…)


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Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, ix,
INTRODUCTION, 1,
PART ONE: CONCEPTS,
1. Security via Sovereignty: Lessons from the Global South Myriam Paredes and Mark Edwards, 5,
2. Can You Put Food on the Table? Redefining Poverty in America Maureen Berner and Alexander Vazquez, 17,
3. Food, Poverty, and Lifestyle Patterns: How Diversity Matters Michael Jindra and Nicolas Larchet, 30,
PART TWO: PROBLEMS,
4. Food Spending Profiles for White, Black, and Hispanic Households Living in Poverty Raphaël Charron-Chénier, 47,
5. The Geography of Risk: A Case Study of Food Insecurity, Poverty, and Food Assistance between the Urban and the Rural Michael D. Gillespie, 63,
6. Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Health among Youth Don Willis and Kevin M. Fitzpatrick, 79,
7. The Role of Coupons in Exacerbating Food Insecurity and Obesity Kaitland M. Byrd, W. Carson Byrd, and Samuel R. Cook, 92,
8. The Rise and Falter of Emergency Food Assistance Jennifer W. Bouek, 104,
9. The Complex Challenges to Participation in Federal Nutrition Programs Rachel Wilkerson, Kathy Krey, and Linda English, 114,
10. Access to Food Assistance for Food Insecure Seniors Marie C. Gualtieri, 128,
11. Food Deserts and Injustice: Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Food Sovereignty in Three Rust Belt Cities Stephen J. Scanlan and Sam Regas, 142,
12. Shifting Access to Food: Food Deserts in Atlanta, 1980–2010 Gloria Ross and Bill Winders, 162,
PART THREE: SOLUTIONS,
13. Together at the Table: The Power of Public-Private Partnerships to Alleviate Hunger Erin Nolen, Jeremy Everett, Doug McDurham, and Kathy Krey, 179,
14. Race, Class, Privilege, and Bias in South Florida Food Movements Marina Karides and Patricia Widener, 191,
15. Food Insecurity in Southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan: How Our Kitchen Table Is Building Food Justice in the Face of Profiteering and Exclusionary Practices Christy Mello, 204,
16. Community Leadership and Participation to Increase Food Access and Quality: Notes from the Field Ameena Batada and Olufemi Lewis, 216,
17. Hunger in the Land of Plenty: Local Responses to Food Insecurity in Iowa Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, Jacqueline Nester, Andrea Basche, Eric Christianson, and Emily Zimmerman, 230,
18. Food Pantries on College and University Campuses: An Emerging Solution to Food Insecurity Carmel E. Price and Natalie R. Sampson, 245,
CONTRIBUTORS, 259,
INDEX, 261,

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