Growing Food Security from the Ground Up: A Case Study of the Kids Action Program

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Shaw, Sarah
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Background: In 2012, 17.5 % of Nova Scotian households reported experiencing food insecurity - a situation of uncertain or limited access to acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. Women are particularly vulnerable to this situation; a major concern given the negative and interrelated impacts of food insecurity on multiple dimensions of human health. There is a need for comprehensive approaches that address food insecurity, including the inequality and inequity that underpins this issue. Purpose: This thesis explored the potential contributions of a community-based program in efforts to address food security for low-income women and their families. More specifically, by drawing on the perspectives of staff members and participants and complementary data, it explored: 1) the “everyday experiences” of food insecurity for women who utilize these programs and, 2) the ways that a community-based program addresses issues of food insecurity through their programs and broader engagement. Methods: A qualitative, exploratory, single case study design was followed, using the Kids Action Program (KAP) as the case. Data collection consisted of individual interviews (with women participants and KAP staff members), document review and participant observation in relevant KAP programs and activities. Analysis was informed by two theoretical frameworks - a conceptual definition of Individual and Household Food Security and Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System’s Theory. Results: These results describe the experience of food insecurity for women who participate in KAP programs. Most prominent, was the coordinating power of money and its influence over women’s “choice”, specifically their ability to access enough healthy foods for themselves and their families. These individual experiences must be considered relative to interactions between these women and their broader environments – this includes the ways that the cost of living, the cost of food, organizational policy and household debt influence and interfere with participants desire to be food secure. It also includes an understanding of how the broader ideological environment, including labels, stigmatization and judgment, contribute to the persistence of poverty and food insecurity as significant social issues. These results further describe the ways in which the KAP contributes to food security, for the women and families they work with, as well as others in their community. This encompasses a spectrum of understanding of what is needed to build food security, where outcomes of individual participation in KAP programs are realized in conjunction with organizational commitment, partnership, and advocacy to realize systems change. It also highlights the important role of organizational leadership and the philosophies and values of staff members in developing meaningful programs and speaking out against injustice. Conclusions and Recommendations: Participants experiences with food insecurity primarily centered on their limited economic access to healthy nutritious foods for themselves and their families. It also included other broader consequences and barriers such as organizational policies, and judgment from others. The KAP contributed to food security for these women at multiple levels – temporarily providing them with improved access to resources, while also engaging in partnership and education activities that aimed to address the social and political conditions in which food insecurity exists. To address food insecurity, community-based programs need strong organizational leadership, founded on principles of social justice and long-term change. Institutions looking to address food security must give community-based programs the autonomy they need to address the needs of their participants and communities.
Food security , Kids Action Program