Abstract: Food Justice and Food Insecurity: A Scoping Study (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

227P Food Justice and Food Insecurity: A Scoping Study

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Katherine Gower, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose: With a growing population, a finite planet, and a changing climate, food security poses a major global challenge in the oncoming decades. In western countries, attempts to deal with food insecurity have mainly come through government assistance and emergency relief programs, which generally focus on providing food, or money to purchase food. Food insecurity, however, does not exist in a vacuum: it is often affected by larger structural issues. While these programs may help to reduce hunger among the food insecure population, they do little to address structural issues, and thus their ability to alleviate food insecurity is limited. The food justice movement however considers food security in the context of larger systemic problems. This holistic perspective has the potential to guide the development of solutions that not only alleviate the worst consequences of food insecurity, but address some of its root causes. The purpose of this scoping review was therefore to examine current practices in food justice organizations (FJOs) aimed at addressing food insecurity, using an ecological systems perspective to interpret findings.

Methods: This study was guided by Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) framework. Relevant studies were identified through extensive searches of online databases, including Agricola, Environment Complete, and Global Health, in addition to others. Keywords included “Food justice” in conjunction with the following terms: “food insecurity,” “food security,” and hunger. Studies (n = 172) were then examined according to selection criteria: the study must a) be published in a peer-reviewed journal, b) examine an FJO that aimed to address food insecurity and/or hunger, and c) be published in English. No date restrictions were imposed on the research. Purely theoretical or conceptual articles were excluded. The selected articles (n = 9) were then examined and charted in an Excel spreadsheet, with attention paid to the following data: type of organization, methods/practices addressing food insecurity, and theoretical framework.

Results: FJOs employ a diverse range of practices to address food insecurity, including education, meal provision, growing community gardens, political lobbying, and supporting the local food system. These methods were often informed by community needs as well as by critical theoretical perspectives activists. For example, the West Oakland Food Collaborative challenged institutional racism by connecting black farmers to the local black community. Incredible Edible Todmorden sought to strengthen the local food system by planting community gardens, seeing it as a way to build community resilience. Many organizations maintained a strong focus on community empowerment.

Conclusions and recommendations: The findings from this study highlight the diversity of FJOs, and constitute a valuable addition to the growing literature on the food justice movement by demonstrating how different contexts and theoretical perspectives translate to substantively different approaches to solving food insecurity. Ecological systems theories provided a useful framework to interpret these approaches, and future research on FJOs and food insecurity may benefit from using an ecological lens. Resilience would be a particularly useful concept for developing strategies for organizations focusing on local food and community empowerment.