Understanding Persistent Food Insecurity: A Paradox of Place and Circumstance

  • Sheila MammenEmail author
  • Jean W. Bauer
  • Leslie Richards


Survey data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture funded multi-state longitudinal project revealed a paradox where rural low-income families from states considered prosperous were persistently more food insecure than similar families from less prosperous states. An examination of quantitative and qualitative data found that families in the food insecure states were more likely to experience greater material hardship and incur greater housing costs than families in the food secure states. Families in the food insecure states, however, did not have lower per capita median incomes or lower life satisfaction than those in the food secure states. A wide range of strategies to cope with food insecurity reported by families in both food insecure and food secure states was examined using the Family Ecological Systems Theory. Families in the food insecure states used several risky consumption reduction strategies such as curbing their appetite and using triage. Families in the food secure states, on the other hand, employed positive techniques involving their human capital.


Persistent food insecurity Rural low-income families Food coping strategies Family Ecological Systems Material hardship 



This research was supported in part by USDA/CSREES/NRICGP Grant Number 2001-35401-10215 & 2002-35401-11591, 2004-35401-14938. Data were collected in conjunction with the cooperative multi-state research project, NC-223/NC-1011, “Rural Low-Income Families: Monitoring Their Well-being and Functioning in the Context of Welfare Reform.” Cooperating states are California, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and Oregon. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of undergraduate research assistants, Peter St. Marie and Thomas Martin, both at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Seohee Son, graduate student at the University of Minnesota.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sheila Mammen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jean W. Bauer
    • 2
  • Leslie Richards
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Resource EconomicsUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family Social ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Development & Family SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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