by Hannah Wilson
My work in the Critical Food Studies Lab began in October 2017 when I became a Sustainability Scholar through the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. My project was originally assigned to me as short, preliminary work where I was able to look at the socioeconomic aspect behind food for the first time. Stemming from previous projects in the early days of the CFSL, my work focused on studying food poverty with a computational approach. I started with three "theoretical" families generated from previous analysis of food insecure individuals. Each of these families was moved around three locations in South-Central Indiana, and I analyzed how their situation changed based on where they lived. I calculated an end of the month (EOM) monetary remainder (either positive or negative) by balancing their assets with their liabilities. In the end, I found that the EOM changed for each family in each location. Whether it be that some areas differ in the number food pantries/ grocery stores, transportation means or costs of living, it was evident to me that location can make a large impact on whether or not a family goes hungry.
One major factor in determining food poverty that I was not able to consider in my first project was time. People who are living on SNAP (food stamps) benefits are often forced to utilize emergency food aid like food pantries to supplement the amount of food they bring in to their home. In fact, many families will go hungry without these pantries. The problem is these pantries tend to have very specific hours, do not clearly communicate with the public and are concentrated only in urban areas/ larger cities. My current work seeks to apply this knowledge to the research I completed last year.
Currently, I am working with both Christopher and Vanessa to create "time tables" that match six theoretical families' working hours with the working hours of surrounding pantries. In creating these tables, I have found that many pantries are rather inaccessible to the populations that they are seeking to help because many of them are open only one day a week or for only an hour or two at a time. These time tables have been more complicated than originally anticipated because my computations require me to generalize hundreds of pantries and personally make choices about how families in poverty would act in choosing which pantries to utilize. This has shown limitations in my work that can only be fixed with a detailed ethnographic work, but that was never the intention for this project.
In the next few weeks, I will be working on the paper I am presenting at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Conference in April. I think my paper will find a unique place in the conference because it incorporates the aspect of time into geographical studies. As was my hope with the preliminary work I did for this research, I hope to show the faults in the systems we've put in place to help the food insecure. Certainly, income makes a big difference in one's access to food, but many have not considered the effect that location and time can make.