Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 843–859 | Cite as

“In”-sights about food banks from a critical interpretive synthesis of the academic literature

  • Lynn McIntyreEmail author
  • Danielle Tougas
  • Krista Rondeau
  • Catherine L. Mah


The persistence, and international expansion, of food banks as a non-governmental response to households experiencing food insecurity has been decried as an indicator of unacceptable levels of poverty in the countries in which they operate. In 1998, Poppendieck published a book, Sweet charity: emergency food and the end of entitlement, which has endured as an influential critique of food banks. Sweet charity‘s food bank critique is succinctly synthesized as encompassing seven deadly “ins” (1) inaccessibility, (2) inadequacy, (3) inappropriateness, (4) indignity, (5) inefficiency, (6) insufficiency, and (7) instability. The purpose of this paper is to examine if and how the contemporary food bank critique differs from Sweet charity’s “ins” as a strategy for the formulation of synthesizing arguments for policy advocacy. We used critical interpretive synthesis methodology to identify relationships within and/or between existing critiques in the peer-reviewed literature as a means to create “‘synthetic constructs’ (new constructs generated through synthesis)” of circulating critiques. We analyzed 33 articles on food banks published since Sweet charity, with the “ins” as a starting point for coding. We found that the list of original “ins” related primarily to food bank operations has been consolidated over time. We found additional “ins” that extend the food bank critique beyond operations (ineffectiveness, inequality, institutionalization, invalidation of entitlements, invisibility). No synthetic construct emerged linking the critique of operational challenges facing food banks with one that suggests that food banks may be perpetuating inequity, posing a challenge for mutually supportive policy advocacy.


Critical Food banks Review Policy Poverty Synthesis 



Funding for this project was provided through the CIHR Operating Grant: Programmatic Grants to Tackle Health and Health Equity, ROH—115208.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynn McIntyre
    • 1
    Email author
  • Danielle Tougas
    • 1
  • Krista Rondeau
    • 1
  • Catherine L. Mah
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Health Sciences CentreMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. JohnCanada

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