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Talking with Their Mouths Half Full: food insecurity in the Hamilton community

While the sociology of food has attended to what symbolisms of presence can tell us about society, the same attention has not been attributed to symbolisms of absence. Within the context of affluent post-industrial societies, food insecurity means that people are “at times, uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food” (Nord et al. 2009, p. 2). This project is a comprehensive study of responses to, and experiences of, food insecurity in Hamilton City. The issue of food insecurity has been difficult to politicise in New Zealand. One of the reasons for this is that the demand for food aid is usually reported by individual organisations, rather than across the entire food support sector. The first phase of this research was a multi-provider survey that documented the demand for formal food support in Hamilton over a one year period in 2006/2007. The findings show that during this time the community absorbed $1,157,623 worth of state funded Special Needs Grants for Food, while philanthropically funded third sector organisations provided 4,232 food parcels and 25,557 community meals. The survey findings demonstrate that the socio-political environment in which formal food support takes place is characterised by the unwillingness of the state to fully realise its role in affirming the right of citizens to be free from hunger. At the same time, there is evidence of a corresponding willingness to delegate provision of food aid to charity based third sector organisations that receive no state funding. The second phase of the study was a qualitative exploration of the experiences of ten community members who were confirmed as food insecure using the ‘Standard 6-item Indicator to Classifying Households by Food Security Status’ (Bickel et al., 2000). The data showed that, as far as they were able, respondents exercised a range of endogenous strategies (the means that individuals and households applied in the private domain to manage food insecurity and hunger), but ultimately, the utility of these diminished. In this event, respondents pursued either informal exogenous strategies (through social networks), or, particularly where there were limitations on social capital, formal exogenous strategies in the form of service use. This study points to food insecurity as an experience that is shrouded with secrecy, shame and fear of stigma. Further, the experience carries with it a range of social implications in the form of exclusion, marginalisation and disempowerment, all of which have seldom been recognised elsewhere in the literature. In acknowledging the complex and non-linear nature of food insecurity at macro, meso and micro levels, Rittel and Webber’s (1973) criteria for ‘wicked problems’ is utilised as a theoretical framework for synthesising the findings. The thesis advocates for a collaborative approach to re-solving the persistence of food insecurity in which the range of stakeholders involved is broadened to include those who ‘talk with their mouths half full’.
Type of thesis
McNeill, K. I. B. (2011). Talking with Their Mouths Half Full: food insecurity in the Hamilton community (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5458
University of Waikato
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