Analyzing Food Choice and Dietary Motivations of Clients Within Client Choice and Pre-Packaged Food Pantry Models
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Private emergency food networks within the United States have increased substantially since the economic downturn of 2007. Within the private food networks of food pantries, little research has explored how food choice, or lack of food choice, impacts perceptions of identity and health among food pantry clients. Through thirty-one, in-depth qualitative interviews and participant observations of three food pantry locations in the central Texas area, this study explores how food pantry clients negotiate identity, stigma, health, and food choice within a food pantry setting. Using divergent perspectives theory, this study finds that participants attribute their need for food pantry services as being a result of external environmental factors, such as a job loss or disability. The participants, however, saw other food pantry clients as being lazy and living off the system. By distinguishing the experiences of food pantry clients, participants were able to label other pantry clients as “undeserving complainers” while continuing to preserve a positive self-identity. Additionally, this research finds that perceptions of choice and health are conceptualized very differently between food pantry employees and food pantry clients. Ultimately, while food pantries have become more physically accessible to low-income populations, the reality is, many food pantries are still socially and emotionally inaccessible to completely meeting clients’ needs.