Empowering collectives, not assisting individuals: Community food assistance, informal social networks, and the labor of care

Authors: Hilda Kurtz*, University of Georgia, Jerry Shannon, University of Georgia , Abigail Borron, University of Georgia
Topics: Qualitative Research, Social Geography
Keywords: emergency food, participatory research, networks of care
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Similar to state sponsored food assistance, such as WIC or SNAP in the United States, most emergency food programs focus on individuals and households as the objects of assistance. Yet for those experiencing food insecurity and economic precarity, reliance on broad networks of informal assistance from friends and family is often an essential survival strategy. By individualizing assistance, food relief efforts may ignore or even undercut informal networks built on care and reciprocity. Our paper, builds on this theme, presenting a mixed-methods, participatory research undertaken by a research team of academics from the University of Georgia and staff at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Our research engaged local agency planning teams—made up of staff, volunteers, and clients—in a discussion about the factors shaping the everyday food worlds of food insecure households. In many of these teams, clients emphasized the important role of informal social networks in finding or receiving support and expressed enthusiasm at the opportunity to build support networks through local agencies. By developing models to foster and support informal networks of care, resource sharing, and knowledge, we argue that local agencies may help build alternative community economies that resist neoliberalized models based primarily on individual assistance.

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