Amy L. Redman

Date of Award

Fall 2013

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michele Dillion


Lower-income groups are more susceptible to diet-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease (CDC, 2010). They are also more likely to need food and nutritional assistance (USDA, 2011). Yet very little is known about the day-to-day food practices of these individuals and families. Many times those who are relatively adjacent in terms of income are assumed to have similarities in food consumption (Hupkens, Knibbe, & Drop, 2000); however, this has not been empirically examined. The main objectives of this research are to 1) gain an exploratory in-depth understanding of the everyday food practices of individuals in three low-income groups: rural, homeless, and refugee, 2) to examine the cultural variations in food practices among the groups, and 3) to investigate the everyday strategies used to obtain food. An ethnographic design was used, including 60 hours of observations in group venues and individual/family homes, and 22 semi-structured interviews, conducted in urban and rural settings in the northeastern United States. The main findings suggest that each group has distinct patterns of everyday food practices, and vary in cultural competence around food. The refugee group demonstrated more cultural competence around food, i.e., knowledge of how to grow, prepare, cook, and celebrate food, in comparison to the rural and homeless groups. Additionally, each group employs the various capital resources they have, in a reasonable way, to feed themselves and their families. This research calls for a greater appreciation of the role of culture in everyday food practices and to increase scholarly recognition of the differences that exists within groups who share a similar economic situation. Additionally, with escalating obesity and food insecurity rates in the US, understanding food culture can alert policy makers that no one intervention is necessarily effective for all low-income groups. Economic strain is undoubtedly linked to food hardships. The findings from this study, however, suggest that cultural capital may be as relevant as income in increasing food security.