"No es facil” / It’s not easy: Neoliberalism, precarity, and food insecurity in Kingston, Ontario and Havana, Cuba

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Belyea, Susan
Food Security , Poverty , Precariousness , Social Capital , Canada , Cuba , Food Insecurity
Food insecurity, the limited or uncertain ability to access sufficient and acceptable foods, remains a persistent problem. Societal responses have been based on partial understandings of the causes and dimensions of food insecurity. In this research I seek to examine how neoliberalism shapes individual and societal responses to food insecurity, to help to identify underlying causes that could guide effective policy. This research begins with people’s lived experiences of and self-reported strategies for navigating among personal, private sector, charitable and state resources for managing food insecurity. Through an ethnographic approach that includes participant observation and 51 semi-structured interviews, I investigate how individuals at risk for food insecurity in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and Havana, Cuba manage the day-to-day work of putting food on the table. Using a Bourdieuian logic of practice framework, this research explores the strategies people use to avoid and to manage food insecurity in countries that sit in different relationships to global neoliberalism. I advance several findings based on this research. First and foremost, the experience of food insecurity is inextricably linked to other aspects of poverty and deprivation. Second, precariousness appears to be a significant determinant and dimension of food insecurity. Finally, while socially networked strategies for managing food insecurity have some benefits, they do not provide sufficient protection against episodic food insecurity, and in fact may exacerbate unequal access to resources for managing and avoiding food insecurity. This research supports existing recommendations that policy addressing food insecurity be a joined-up policy that combats multiple dimensions of poverty and inequality. This research also suggests that policy to address food insecurity must counter the effects of precariousness that characterizes both the neoliberal state in Canada and the neoliberalizing state in Cuba. A guarantee of adequate income will be a fundamental step in addressing this. People at risk for food insecurity should be supported in continuing to exercise the effective skills they already use for avoiding food insecurity and managing the work of putting food on the table. Further qualitative research is needed to understand the multiple dimensions of food insecurity and its specific manifestations in different countries.
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