Jessica Crum Reflects on Food Security

This post was contributed by Jessica Crum.

In Together at the Table, Patricia Allen (2011) examines the U.S. alternative agrifood movement, which she sees as arising from the community food security movement and the sustainable agriculture movement. She is focused on analyzing the movement’s discourse as a way to get at its self-understanding (or “cognitive content”) and aims at producing theory not only about the movement but also for the movement. By understanding the ideological underpinnings of the movements’ weaknesses, she is able to offer possibilities for future collaborations and positive directions for the movement. As Allen (2011) explains, “discovering how people working in the alternative agrifood movement and agrifood institutions view the world and how they see their place in challenging and reshaping the agrifood system represents an essential step for better understanding the sites of and possibilities for change in the agrifood system” (p. 9).

This quote reflects an issue we have discussed repeatedly in one of my classes at West Virginia University.  Why do people feel guilty about poverty/needing help?  It’s the American, “pick yourself up by your boot straps” ideology that creates guilt rather than anger for an individual’s situation.  Instead of looking at the food system as a whole, blame is pointed at individuals.  This same theme is discussed in Poppendieck’s Sweet Charity (1998). The idea that charity contributes to our society’s failure to grapple with poverty is the overall theme of the book Sweet Charity. Proliferation of food banks, pantries and soup kitchens indicates hunger, which is a symptom of poverty, is an enormous issue in the United States. Poppendieck explains that the proliferation of such charitable organizations is taking responsibility away from the government to help. Guthman’s (2011) Weighing In calls reader’s attention to the entire political process that surrounds food.  It challenges commonly accepted ideas about health, obesity and entire political system.

Another aspect I found to be very compelling is how Allen highlights the way that the alternative agrifood movement draws on residual ideas of Jeffersonian agrarianism, continuing to privilege the farmer and property owner. This prioritization of the farmer not only marginalizes farm workers but other forms of food systems labor as well. She suggests the ways ideas of economic competition and individualism structure the alternative markets that the movement produces, constraining some of the movement’s more progressive impulses. She also questions the focus on the local within the sustainability movement, suggesting that local is not necessarily more democratic but may magnify the inequalities of race, gender, and wealth that already exist on a local level.

Jessica Crum is a graduate student at West Virginia University working with the Appalachian Foodshed Project. 



Allen, P. (2004). Together at the table: sustainability and sustenance in the American agrifood system. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Guthman, J. (2011). Weighing in: obesity, food justice, and the limits of capitalism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Poppendieck, J. (1998). Sweet charity? : emergency food and the end of entitlement. New York, N.Y.: Viking.