Expanding Food Agency Theory and Measurement with Mixed Methods
A Study from Philadelphia
This qualitative strand of a mixed-methods study investigates the experiences of a group of low-income residents of color and university students from Philadelphia, in conjunction with the development of the Cooking and Food Provisioning Scale (CAFPAS). The CAFPAS is a tool for understanding and intervening in people’s ability to access and prepare food, an ability known as “food agency.” Qualitative data identified in this study reveal aspects of food agency not measured by the scale, such as the constraints of the physical environment and lack of money, or strategic provisioning to overcome barriers to access. Physical distance from food sources combined with income and time barriers makes procuring and preparing food difficult to achieve. Provisioning practices, such as strategic shopping and gardening, thus emerged as a means to mitigate such socioeconomic barriers to enacting food agency. Personal aspirations—to eat more healthfully, cook more skillfully, and have greater self-sufficiency—also emerged as an unexpectedly important way in which people related to their own food choices and actions. CAFPAS scores are perhaps best understood with accompanying contextual data to elucidate food agency in particular places and life circumstances. Likewise, a qualitative inquiry into food agency can be appropriately contextualized by connecting it to broader patterns in CAFPAS scores. For a full conception of food agency, if it is to be applied in community projects or policy decisions, we need to better understand individuals’ preferred actions and the place-based structures that either support or inhibit them.
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