Feeding the Other
Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries
- Winner of the 2020 Outstanding Monograph of the Year Award given by the Organizational Communication Division of the National Communication Association
- Winner of the 2021 Outstanding Book Award, given by the International Communication Association
- 2021 International Communication Association Outstanding Book Award.
312 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: April 9, 2019
- Published: April 16, 2019
- Published: March 15, 2019
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 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.
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.
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.
Mariana Chilton, 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
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.
As one of the nominators for the book eloquently notes, 'This imminent call to centering the voices of those at the margins of food systems offers a radical imaginary for transforming neoliberal food systems.' We are also happy to recommend a book that is freely available through an open-access publishing license.
The Awards Committee of the 2021 International Communication Association Outstanding Book Award
De Souza makes a clear and motivating argument for a shift in how we discuss justice and access to food.
Agriculture and Human Values
Funding provided by: MIT Libraries