Foodways of the urban poor
Alison Hope Alkon et al.
Geoforum, August 2013, Pages 126–135
Abstract: In the past decade, progressive public health advocates and food justice activists have increasingly argued that food deserts, which they define as neighborhoods lacking available healthy foods, are responsible for the diet-related health problems that disproportionately plague low-income communities of color. This well meaning approach is a marked improvement over the victim-blaming that often accompanies popular portrayals of health disparities in that it attempts to shift the emphasis from individual eaters to structural issues of equitable development and the supply of health-inducing opportunities. However, we argue that even these supply-side approaches fail to take into account the foodways – cultural, social and economic food practices, habits and desires – of those who reside in so-called food deserts. In this paper, we present five independently conducted studies from Oakland and Chicago that investigate how low-income people eat, where and how they shop, and what motivates their food choices. Our data reveals that cost, not lack of knowledge or physical distance, is the primary barrier to healthy food access, and that low-income people employ a wide variety of strategies to obtain the foods they prefer at prices they can afford. This paper speaks to academic debates on food systems, food movements and food cultures. We hope that progressive policy makers, planners and food justice activists will also draw on it to ensure that their interventions match the needs, skills and desires of those they seek to serve.
Nod to Kevin Lewis