Poverty and food (in)security

Authored by: Monica Truninger , Cecilia Díaz-Méndez

Routledge Handbook on Consumption

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138939387
eBook ISBN: 9781315675015
Adobe ISBN: 9781317380900


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The concept of food security has been the subject of various debates and reconfigurations over time (Carolan, 2013). Such diversity of conceptualizations explains the lack of clarity in use of terms such as food poverty, food insecurity and food sovereignty. According to the influential work by Dowler, Turner and Dobson (2001, p. 12), food poverty “is the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so; it is thus the opposite of food security”. Such conceptualization makes more visible a concern with diet and consumers. This definition echoes the one mentioned by Borch and Kjaernes (2016) wherein food insecurity “exists when people have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, for example without resorting to emergency food supplies, begging, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies” (p. 138). Hence, it is not surprising they are often used interchangeably. And yet, poverty and food insecurity are not the same phenomenon. If we take lack of income as a fundamental feature of poverty, then we find that income is a necessary condition but not sufficient to guarantee food security. High-income families may go through periods of food insecurity when facing a transient income shortfall (e.g. due to an economic crisis) and are forced to prioritise other expenses accumulated over time (e.g. transportation, mortgages, children’s education), whereas low-income people may have sufficient social and cultural capitals and skills that enable them to prepare good-quality food on a tight budget (Borch & Kjaernes, 2016, p. 137).

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