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Forkways #20: Food Security

Social research breaks down into two basic research approaches. These methods are quantitative and qualitative. Research with a quantitative approach focuses on separating the data into numbers than can be analysed. Research with a qualitative approach focuses on understanding and exposing trends of thought through the impression of the observer. The purpose of a quantitative research method is to create an action plan, while a qualitative research method is to create a basis of understanding. Quantitative research focuses on experiments, surveys, content analysis, and existing statistics. Qualitative research focuses on field research and historical comparative research.
The two variables to be examined by this paper are poverty and food security. These two variables take on different and interesting dynamics depending on the method used to collect the data. Both qualitative and quantitative analysis provides insightful understandings to these issues and the dynamic between them. Poverty is a statistic evaluated annually and is calculated based on income level. Food security involves the fulfillment of dietary needs and food preference to fulfill a healthy lifestyle.  Food security can be tracked through medical records, but also through an eighteen question module. Level of income level will likely have a direct impact on food security, but each of these research methods will expose a different reason on why.
An experiment that could be done using the variables of poverty and food security would answer the question would an increase in income provide more food security and an overall increase in health and nutrition? In an attempt to answer this question the experiment would look at two groups. One group would get their standard budget for food expenses and their buying habits and health status would be recorded. A second group would be provided with an increased food budget to see if their buying habits would change and health status and food security would improve. This experiment will indicate if poverty is the primary factor influencing food security.
Poverty and food security might be difficult to track through a survey. One of the main concerns is finding the intersection between poverty and food security. One of the main data structures for food security is acquired through survey. How can this current survey be changed to include questions about income level and poverty concerns? Questions on the survey can ask about income, aspects of diet, how far they travel to obtain groceries and prepared food, and if they feel satisfied with the food available to them. Both poverty and food security can exist invisibly in survey participants. The success of this method relies on the honesty of the individuals to reply to their surveys honestly. One of the concerns is the empirical analysis of an ambiguous and invisible item like satisfaction level. A survey will be able to provide the researcher with specific data set to analyse and draw conclusions. These conclusions might be able to better identify the roots of food security.
Content analysis would be a very helpful window into understanding poverty and food security. Content analysis could  compare nutritional levels of certain food items with their costs. This will help researchers draw conclusions about the cost of food security. Identifying the intersection of these two variables will provide a significant amount of  quantifiable data. One point that will have to be considered is that food security goes beyond the raw data of nutrition, if an individual cannot have access to the food they like the eat, the amount of nutrition in the food they have access is irrelevant. The entire inventory of seven major grocery stores per major city explored could be entered into a database with the nutritional information and cost. This data could be used to understand a lot of the types of food that are available. Income level is only one factor in food security, but the raw data of the price and nutrition of grocery and prepared items would provide an interesting window on to the experience.
Much research exists about the correlation between poverty and food security. Many organizations track these variables and others related to them on an annual basis. There would also be a lot of opportunity to draw conclusions from secondary data analysis as many previous surveys will contain questions about income level. These existing statistics would provide a plethora of information. Conclusions can be drawn on the geographic regions most at risk to fall prey to food security issues. This data might also be able to identify other trends correlating between income level and food security.
A field study could provide an interesting experience in the exploration of poverty and food security. Through this field study recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could be approached and tracked. The observer could view what food choice were made and how the food was prepared. The observer would be able to see how budgeting concerns might change choices about what foods to get and what foods will best fulfill their nutritional concerns.
When examining poverty and food security a historical-comparative study will help the researcher have context on what the nutritional expectations for persons of certain economic classes. Nutritional anthropologists will have access to site data regarding what food were eaten in which settings in what time periods. These food scraps can be essential to understanding past food choices as they correlate with nutrition and food security. Other oral histories, diaries, and letters might also be helpful. Food security issues are not new, but they are more newly tracked than some other social variables. Finding instances of nutritional concern and food insecurity in the past may also create awareness to patterns that will help see and evaluate current issues with food security.

The opportunity to study this issue through so many method provides a multifaceted experience through which to draw a conclusion. Though some methods might be a better fit in the research process, all of them could provide curious results. Poverty and food security are intimately related.  Each of these research methods can expose different aspects of how this is true and what actions might be needed to change these variables in the future.


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