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Dilemmas of emergency food: A guide for the perplexed


The proliferation of emergency food programs in the United States over the past decade and a half has created a dilemma for advocates and others who approach issues of social provision from the standpoint of a commitment to social justice. While the soup kitchens, food pantries, food banks, and food rescue programs that comprise the emergency food system may be able to meet some of the urgent, immediate needs of poor people, they do so in ways that may further undermine rights and entitlements and erode the cultural basis of support for the welfare state. Should advocates of distributive justice work to improve such emergency programs, ignore them, or call for their abolition? This paper explores the history of advocates' involvement with emergency food, assesses the strengths and weaknesses of emergency food programs from a social justice standpoint, and offers some guidelines for action.

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Additional information

Jan Poppendieck is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Hunter College of the City University of New York and Director of the Hunter College Center for the Study of Family Policy. She is the author ofBreadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression (Rutgers, 1986) and several articles on hunger, food assistance, and public policy. She is chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Food Resource Center in New York City and is active in the Association for the Study of Food and Society. She is currently at work on a book on emergency food in the United States (Reinventing Charity: Emergency Food in American Culture).

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Poppendieck, J. Dilemmas of emergency food: A guide for the perplexed. Agric Hum Values 11, 69–76 (1994).

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  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Social Justice
  • Welfare State
  • Food System
  • Distributive Justice