Monday, December 1, 2008

City Residents Speak about Food: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This past week, in part due to the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Residents Speak groups had less on their plate in regards to actual research to conduct or field trips to take part in. It provided a nice transitional period in which the groups could begin to review their collected research and start formulating plans for their final projects. Or, in the case of the New Brunswick and Newark groups, they were given extra time to gather their thoughts in preparation for the field trips to their respective cities on December 3rd and 5th.

The Trenton Residents Speaks group made an effort to meet last week so that Astrid Raisseau and Ariel Lawrence could debrief the rest of the group on how the interviews and fieldwork had gone. Together the girls managed to interview a total of nine residents throughout their travels to a 7Eleven, the Crisis Ministry and the Farmer’s Market. While they felt as though they had managed to collect a substantial amount of data in their interviews, they expressed doubt over whether or not they had collected enough to build an entire final product for the CBLI project. Furthermore, they were frustrated by the amount of information or prep they were given before leaving for Trenton. They wished they could have known more specifics about what sorts of venues they would be traveling to so to better tailor their interview questions to the situation ahead of time. The group discussed the prospect of organizing an independent trip into Trenton themselves so to be able to collect more data.

I asked Astrid and Ariel to fill out a short questionnaire about their experiences. Parts of it are reproduced below:

Where the venues you traveled to places you would want to shop for your own food?
“No, I would prefer actual supermarkets.”
“The Farmer’s Market.”

Were the residents open to the interviews? Did they seem to be honest? Were they resentful?
“No not everyone was willing to be interviewed, some residents claimed they have received/participated in a similar interview. I feel that some participants, once they understood the purpose of the study (that we would be focusing on health), shaped their answers to what they thought we would want to hear, especially one woman in particular. There was an old woman, who was suffering from diabetes and other complications who regretted many of her food choices. However, she admitted that she was still eating poorly and maintaining destructive health behavior.”
“Most were open to being interviewed. Sometimes I felt as if some people were giving answers they thought they should give – example, ‘my dinner had some crabs, some protein, veggies etc.’”

Was there a general trend in responses indicating a certain deficiency or universal complaint about food in the area?
“ The cost of food too high and not enough big-chain and low cost supermarkets nearby.”
“A lot of people claimed that there was no quality supermarket in downtown Trenton, although a couple of individuals said otherwise. A lot of individuals complained about costs.”

Was the culture of those you interviewed a frequent topic of discussion in regards to how it affects their opinions of food and their eating habits?
“A few people admitted that because they were black they had certain opinions about what they deemed good food (fried chicken, potatoes, etc.)"

To close for this weeks post, I thought it would be interesting to include a brief response I wrote about a talk given by Mark Winne earlier this semester on “Closing the Food Gap”. In light of the fact that many of the field trips make stops at food pantries I feel as though this discussion is quite provocative and might be a topic the groups might try to explore further down the road in their research endeavors.

I was impressed when Mark Winne in his lecture “Closing the Food Gap” relayed the statistic that since 1980 the number of food banks in Hartford has leaped from four to four hundred. The last thing I expected to hear after such a remarkable achievement was criticism of the food banking efforts to provide for those in destitute poverty. However, in the eyes of Mark Winne, such immense growth demonstrated by the food banks is discouraging. The rational behind his opinion stems from the notion that the striking growth in the food banks merely promotes the continuation of a system inadequately equipped to truly fight poverty. Food banks, while they make an immediate difference to those in need of food, in the long run, side step the real issues and fail to actually combat poverty from its source. The sheer scale of hunger and poverty necessitates other more lastly and meaningful solutions. Solutions that prevent people from falling into poverty in the first rather than rescuing them from poverty after it has already struck are what Mr. Winne is advocating for through his disapproval of food banking institutions. Essentially, changes in public policy such as a raise in the “living wage’, availability of health insurance and job training programs should be the emphasis of policy efforts. However, so long as the current food bank system continues, serving a crutch to support the currently unstable approach to fighting poverty, it will be difficult to rally efforts to push for other changes.