Feeding the Other
Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries
How food pantries stigmatize their clients through a discourse that emphasizes hard work, self help, and economic productivity rather than food justice and equity.
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.
The United States has one of the highest rates of hunger and food insecurity in the industrialized world, with poor households, single parents, and communities of color disproportionately affected. Food pantries—run by charitable and faith-based organizations—rather than legal entitlements have become a cornerstone of the government's efforts to end hunger. In Feeding the Other, Rebecca de Souza argues that food pantries stigmatize their clients through a discourse that emphasizes hard work, self help, and economic productivity rather than food justice and equity. De Souza describes this “framing, blaming, and shaming” as “neoliberal stigma” that recasts the structural issue of hunger as a problem for the individual hungry person.
De Souza shows how neoliberal stigma plays out in practice through a comparative case analysis of two food pantries in Duluth, Minnesota. Doing so, she documents the seldom-acknowledged voices, experiences, and realities of people living with hunger. She describes the failure of public institutions to protect citizens from poverty and hunger; the white privilege of pantry volunteers caught between neoliberal narratives and social justice concerns; the evangelical conviction that food assistance should be “a hand up, not a handout”; the culture of suspicion in food pantry spaces; and the constraints on food choice. It is only by rejecting the neoliberal narrative and giving voice to the hungry rather than the privileged, de Souza argues, that food pantries can become agents of food justice.
Hardcover$90.00 X | £75.00 ISBN: 9780262039819 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in
Paperback$30.00 S | £25.00 ISBN: 9780262536769 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in
I believe Feeding the Other to be a crucial and necessary tool for any service organization, not only food banks and pantries, when exploring how to best center and prioritize the voices of people who are most impacted by their services.
De Souza's book is a much-needed intervention into the unvoiced logics at play within the food pantry system in the United States. Aided by her crisp prose, attention to detail, and her broad theoretical oeuvre, the book does an excellent job of introducing complex critical health communication ideas in a way that is approachable, but never simplified.
This is a bold exposé on how discrimination permeates the way we address hunger in America. But de Souza also shows us how food pantries can be transformed from places of stigma to centers for transformation, equity, and social justice—if only we would listen and act.
Director, Center for Hunger-Free Communities, Drexel University
Grounded in the perspectives of food pantry clients, de Souza's exemplary work issues a devastating critique of the neoliberal hunger industrial complex's racist, stigmatizing charity approach that sustains food injustice. Just as importantly, she illuminates a path forward, brilliantly reenvisioning the thousands of U.S. food pantry staff as social justice communication activists at the front lines of the hunger epidemic.
Lawrence R. Frey
Professor of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder