State of hunger: Food insecurity’s place in anthropology

Guest post by Natalie Sylvester

Food insecurity is considered by major aid agencies to be the world’s biggest health risk (World Food Programme 2011). Food insecurity, however, receives far less research attention and aid than other world health problems such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. This bias in attention holds true in cultural anthropology as well.

One-seventh of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Yet anthropology does not have an edited volume that addresses the wide-ranging topics of food insecurity. The subfields of medical anthropology and nutritional anthropology are especially well-equipped to study food insecurity and its related issues in nuanced, reflective, and powerful ways.

This review, originally prepared for a graduate seminar in medical anthropology, examines works written about food insecurity in the anthropological and closely-related social science literature. I highlight what is, and is not, being spoken about within the anthropological food insecurity discourse. My review reveals three major connections and complications: Development Policy and Food Insecurity, Mental Health and Food Insecurity, and HIV/AIDS and Food Insecurity.

Development Policy and Food Insecurity

The Cauca Valley is in southwest Colombia.

Food insecurity is often the subject of policy and those development projects that attempt to enact policy. Taussig (1978) in his classic article “Nutrition, Development, and Foreign Aid” is one of the first to demonstrate the complex interplay between food insecurity of a population, outside political and economic intervention, and its consequences. 

Taussig focuses on the Community Systems Foundation (CSF) which found that in the Cauca Valley, “50 percent of the children under six years were malnourished” (1978:109). The CSF’s solution was to increase peasant’s consumption of soya, which would close both the protein and caloric gaps.

Taussig examines three important points that exemplify why the CSF intervention failed to work. He first explains that the caloric and protein gaps that the CSF were concerned with were based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) daily requirements (1979:110). That is, the CSF came up with a guideline, without basing those guidelines on their population’s actual energy expenditures and what they needed to consume.

Second, peasant families did not welcome soya as a food source, as in their view it was meant for livestock (1978:112). The CSF ignored cultural barriers to their intervention. Third, Taussig finds that the peasants did not produce soya to the scale which the CSF calculated they did. Thus, increasing soya consumption would not only be an unnatural choice for the peasant to consume but impossible to implement with lower production rates.

Even though Taussig wrote this article before neoliberalism became a defined term, traces of a critique of neoliberalism’s use in this instance exist throughout his work. Harvey (2005), in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, suggests that neoliberalism reflects the interests of enterprise, not people, and requires little change in the system, forcing people to adapt to it.

As Taussig presents this case, the CSF wanted the peasants to change to the conditions rendering them malnourished as opposed to changing the conditions. Furthermore, ultimately under CSF’s model, the peasants were responsible for nourishing themselves. Often, in neoliberal schemes, the sufferer is blamed for the problem. Taussig’s article both predicts and foreshadows the critiques other anthropologists would have of later food insecurity policy.

The 1990s saw an increase in anthropological writing about the topic of food insecurity and its relations to policy. Pottier’s chapter, “Food Insecurity in Policy and Practice,” which lies within his larger work, The Anthropology of Food (1999), explicates the basic questions revolving in the world of food insecurity, such as its definition which has been debated since the inception of the term in 1970s.

Pottier notes that quantification of food insecurity is difficult because determining who has eaten, what he or she has eaten, and who has gone hungry, is next to impossible given that households that are often not neatly bounded units, and access to food is often linked to other realms of life (1999:18). The lack of quantitative analysis in food security makes anthropological study all the more useful since anthropology is known for its qualitative approach which, done properly over adequate periods of time, can help disentangle some of the major research questions.

Pottier draws attention to the fact that the conclusion of the World Food Summit in 1996 was that “food security ultimately derives from poverty” (1999:38). The causes of poverty and food insecurity, however, went unstated. It would not be a huge leap for the anthropologist to study the power structures at play which disallow certain foods to certain persons.

Pottier points out that social complexities like gender relationships, and ambiguities in these relationships, affect who eats what (1999:39). This implication, subtle as it is, notices lower level power structures, a micro-level political economy of food. To my knowledge, this is a topic unexplored by anthropologists.

Pottier’s notions are perhaps the closest anthropology gets to looking into the role of structural violence on food security, structural violence being the decreased ability to achieve raised expectations. Both macro-level and micro-level structures of power can increase structural violence, although it is often associated with government. It would be worthwhile to see how food enters into the equation.

Khanum (2002) writes about the Water Sector Scheme, which was assisted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Bangladesh in the mid-1990s. Khanum finds that while the project enhanced food production, it also created food insecurity in parts of the population it had not previously affected (2002:113). Curiously, Khanum also finds that “despite some unintended effects the scheme’s general record of success cannot be ignored” (2002:120).

Khanum argues that the WFP’s emphasis on employing women over men actually backfired since the women typically not only earned less but experienced heavy tolls on their bodies due to the physical nature of the work (2002:117,121). Khanum implies, throughout his work that the WFP has the same outline of how projects happen all over the world regardless of geographical, cultural, or any other, differences. This implication explains the nonsensical emphasis on employing women.

Khanum’s (2002) findings fall in line with what Ferguson (1994) wrote about in his book, The Anti-Politics Machine: how the very presence of development projects ensures the expansion of governmental power and has adverse, though unintended, effects on the majority of people. Both Khanum and Taussig provide additional insight into the anthropology of development projects on food aid. Khanum shows the workings of the WFP; headed by the UN, it remains the largest food aid project in existence, especially since it is working toward the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to halve world hunger by 2015.

Marchione and Messer (2010) propose the United States take a human rights approach to help reduce food insecurity globally. Their argument is that, while the US is the leading exporter of food aid, the way in which the US handles food aid is corrupted by politics, inefficiency and ineffectiveness (2010:10). Instead of providing food for the hungry, the US provides food for those who fit their foreign policy.

Ellen Messer, cultural anthropologist and longstanding champion of food security studies.

Marchione and Messer present findings from two case counties – Ethiopa and Zimbabwe – to support their argument about how United States’ food aid works. Further, they show that the US affects other projects like the World Food Programme (2010:23). According to Marchione and Messer, despite US influence, which keeps the WFP from being wholly human rights oriented, the WFP still operates more efficiently than US international food aid programs.

Marchione’s and Messer’s (2010) implication is that a shift to a human rights orientation over a political one in US food aid policy would go a long way to help reduce the level of food insecurity in the world. What Marchione and Messer fail to consider is that while inefficient and ineffective at reducing food insecurity, the foreign-policy-aligned food aid that the US deploys is most likely efficient and effective at achieving political goals. Whether these political goals are overt and Machiavellian or more benign in their nature should be explored.

Jarosz (2011) argues in her article, Defining World Hunger, that since the 1980s, neoliberalism has changed the scale of global hunger to the individual and his or her purchasing power, thus making food not a right, but a privilege of those who can afford it. Many US policies are tied up in norms about politics and economics.

Neoliberalism, at its most basic level, assumes the agency of the individual to be improve upon his/her condition in a competitive atmosphere. Under neoliberalism, it is not necessary to worry about the sufferer who theoretically could improve his or her station. Jarosz raises the question of how these individuals are supposed to be agent enough to feed themselves in a system that has no concern for their rights in the first place.

Jarosz’s (2011) article becomes even more striking when read against Michael Ennis-McMillan’s (2001) ethnographic article, Suffering From Water, which highlights how issues such as water availability and quality are anything but the problem of a sole individual. The complex social system of dealing with water scarcity in a valley of Central Mexico shows that resources are not often dealt with on the individual level the world over. Why would food be any different?

Jarosz’s study shows that neoliberalism has the potential to break down social systems that may allocate food based on the group’s needs. Jarosz, or another anthropologist, could then extend this argument to see what effects a development policy of food aid aimed at reducing food insecurity has. If policy reduces or destroys social structures that prescribe who eats what, they could potentially increase the level of food insecurity.

Mental Health and Food Insecurity

Food security’s links to health extend to mental health as well. Scheper-Hughes (1992) explores this junction in her classic book, Death Without Weeping. She describes both delirio de fome and nervoso. These culture-specific reveal the interplay of mental health and food insecurity in social contexts, in this case, of extreme poverty and everyday violence in a Brazilian favela based primarily on her four field expeditions between 1982-1989 .

The onset of delirio de fome, or delirium of hunger, could be attributed to hunger by the sufferers and onlookers of the condition. Nervoso could not be verbalized in terms of food insecurity. Scheper-Hughes, however, found that nervoso shared numerous symptoms of physical hunger.

Instead, both those experiencing and those treating nervoso viewed it as a mental deficiency of sorts where tranquilizers, and not food, were prescribed. Rather than feeding them, which would have done much to relieve the symptoms of those who suffered from nervoso, the sufferers were drugged. In the spirit of Marx, Scheper-Hughes writes, “medicine was an opiate of the sick (and the hungry)” (1992:215).

Scheper-Hughes (1992) questions why individuals would “play along,” when what they need is food. Her answer is that, “the idiom of nervoso at the very least provides an agitated, nervous, and hungry population with a less dangerous way of addressing their pain and registering their discontent and defiance” (1992:214). Less dangerous because nervoso does not challenge the poor human condition or require social change, whereas food insecurity would.

Severe conditions cause severe psychological problems for their sufferers. The question that anthropologists and other social scientists fail to answer is whether these psychological symptoms certify them as being “crazy.” What stressors are adequate cause for common mental disorder (CMD) and how, if in any way, should policy be changed in order to account for persons who are not capable of functioning at their best.

Weaver and Hadley, in an article published in 2009, review all known studies regarding mental health and food insecurity. They found that the studies “provide evidence that food insecure individuals are more likely than food secure individuals to experience elevated anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of common mental disorders” (Weaver and Hadley 2009:277).

The question less explored in these studies is to what degree hunger causes these changes. Weaver and Hadley argue that food insecurity is “a mentally and emotionally damaging experience” (2009:280). They point out that the studies of mental health and food insecurity fail to analyze the nutritional value of the food that is consumed, arguing that nutrition, and not just caloric intake, can affect expression of mental disorder. Weaver and Hadley rightly indict studies correlating mental health and food insecurity because they do not explicate how other insecurities may be expressed through mental disorder.

Weaver and Hadley (2009) demonstrate well the parallels in anthropological critiques of food insecurity policy and the critiques of research on food insecurity and mental health. The authors would like to see more longitudinal studies with better methodology, reminiscent of what Pottier (1999) suggested (Weaver and Hadley 2009:280). Weaver and Hadley want to see better analysis of food quality and necessary requirements of the food insecure population like Taussig (1978).

Again, however, Weaver and Hadley do not explore how knowledge that food security can create mental instability should inform food security policy. For instance, should counseling and food aid go together? Or is providing access to food alone enough to relieve the emotional burdens that come with food insecurity?

Weaver and Hadley’s (2009) overview sparked an extension of their argument in Cole and Tembo’s (2011) article, The Effect of Food Insecurity on Mental Health. Cole and Tembo affirm the correlation between food insecurity and mental health amongst a specific population, the Chewa in Zambia.

Cole and Tembo note that food insecurity affects mental health of the Chewa more in the dry season than the rainy season (2011:1075). The authors argue that the qualitative data gathered support this assertion since it is during the dry season that a higher proportion of the Chewa are affected by food insecurity as the next harvest is farthest away at that time (Cole and Tembo 2011:1076). Cole and Tembo also find that overall poor physical health and overall mental health of the household were important factors on the mental health of the individual (2011:1076).

Cole and Tembo imply that food insecurity can be especially harmful to mental health because food insecurity is often recurrent over long periods of time allowing the stress to build (2011:1076). When the stress is heightened the mental instability is greater throughout the general population, reinforcing the idea that food insecurity is not an individual problem but a group one.

Can people be more or less mentally unstable at different times depending on the conditions? If so, how should this affect food insecurity policy NGOs and governments produce? Cole and Tembo build on those that have come before it, and creates a more nuanced account of food insecurity and mental health, giving credence to the suggestions of Weaver and Hadley (2009).

Around the time Cole and Tembo (2011) published their work delving into nuances of food insecurity and mental health, Maes and Shifferaw (2011) published another groundbreaking article. Maes and Shifferaw discuss a rarely explored population, health care volunteers, specifically HIV/AIDS workers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopa.

Maes and Shifferaw blend ethnography and epidemiology; for the ethnographic part of their work the authors showcase the tales of two volunteers, Eskinder and Asayech (2011:107-109). The authors provide evidence that at the root of CMD of the health care volunteers was food insecurity. For those who were HIV/AIDS positive, HIV/AIDS had less of an effect on their mental health than food insecurity did. This may be because the volunteer environment reduced the stress of HIV/AIDS positive status (Maes and Shifferaw 2011:106-107).

Maes and Shifferaw leave the reader with the thought that NGOs could, with relative ease, reduce the burden on health care volunteers by paying them or feeding them, and yet that solution does not appear to be within the capacity of NGOs to offer because doing so might alter the intrinsic values of a volunteer (2011:112).

Maes and Shifferaw call attention to the categories I address here – the interaction of food insecurity with policy, mental health and HIV/AIDs. In Maes and Shifferaw’s (2011) piece, policy, mental health and HIV/AIDS intersect and affect each other’s relationship to food insecurity, reinforcing my larger argument that the complexities, like policy and mental health, of food insecurity are not easily and readily disentangled from one another.

Furthermore, the population studied is unusual and points to the possibility that anthropologists could usefully focus on lesser-studied groups to study food insecurity, and thereby contribute new insights at the junction of policy and physical and mental health.

Food Insecurity and HIV/AIDS

Food insecurity suppresses the ability of the immune system to function at full capacity. Malnutrition has a wide array of negative physical effects, especially on growing children. Whether you are hungry or fed can make the world of difference between infection, recovery and death.

Such is the case with the most popular and challenging epidemic of our time, HIV/AIDS. Farmer (1999), a widely known medical doctor and medical anthropologist, suggests, in his work Infections and Inequalities that health care workers treat social ills alongside HIV/AIDS, which might include providing food with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

While Farmer’s work is not solely about food security, he does show that having adequate resources, like food and housing, make a difference between compliance and so-called non-compliance for poor people around the world (1999:249). This difference could in turn make the difference between living with HIV/AIDS or dying with HIV/AIDS. However, Farmer (1999) does not discuss any of the potential ramifications of providing food with ART.

From growing food to growing fuel.

Kalafonos (2010) discusses these ramifications in his article, “All I Eat Are ARVS,” which documents the HIV/AIDS and food insecurity problem in Central Mozambique from research done drom 2003-2006. Kalafonos works under the assumption that “HIV-positive individuals have an increased need for caloric intake” (2010:364). As such, HIV/AIDS cannot be successfully treated in hungry people unless the hunger problem is also addressed, leading some organizations to provide food for the individual, along with their Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).

Up to this point, Farmer’s reasoning seems sound. Kalafonos points out, however, that ithis food gets shared among the family, whose members are also hungry and perhaps also HIV positive. The food supply, meant for one, is not enough. This circumstance of food sharing can be traced back to both Jarosz (2010) and Pottier (1999); food is given to the individual even though food and the act of eating is not an individual event.

Kalofonos (2010) acknowledges that there is an explicit hunger side effect of ART; the very medications that keep HIV/AIDS positive individuals alive also exacerbate hunger. Thus, if they do get food rations with ART, it might not even seem like enough for them alone, let alone a whole family. Kalofonos also finds that food allotment makes it appear to HIV/AIDS negative individuals as though individuals who are HIV/AIDS positive benefit from their condition.

This situation leads to a vicious cycle where HIV/AIDS positive persons still feel starved and their HIV/AIDS negative neighbors resent them. In Mozambique, Kalofonos points out, when not enough food is readily available, or rather, purchasable, and not enough food is given to support the family of the HIV afflicted, such programs wind up creating social disunity, pitting individuals or groups against each other (2010:375).

Kalafonos (2010) draws on Foucault’s concept of biopower. Biopower, in its most simple interpretation, is the assumption of governments to ordain who has the right to life; the “subjugation of bodies and control of population” (Foucault 1978:140). While biopower is apt at helping us understand what is occurring in a variety of situations, Kalafonos promotes the idea of biosociopathy to explain certain occurrences (2010:374-375).

Biosociopathy distorts circumstances of health and illness, explaining why some interventions and treatments are inadequate, if not harmful. Scheper-Hughes (1992) finds a medicalization of hunger in the case of nervoso, Kalofonos finds that “medicalization itself leads to hunger” (2010:365). However, both could be considered instances of biosociopathy.

Nguyen (2010), in his book, The Republic of Therapy, also finds that when organizations feed their patients, in West Africa, it fosters disharmony. Nguyen writes, “I often hear the commentary that AIDS has become a business and those who have lucked into the ‘business’ grow plump while those who have not go thin” (Nguyen 2010:182).

That HIV/AIDS could ever be seen as a kind of advantage should be alarming. However, it would be misleading to conclude that food insecurity is the only area in which having HIV/AIDS benefits the victim. Nguyen (2010) notes that a positive HIV/AIDS status can grant access to otherwise nonexistent medical care; it can even provide a kind of identity, a perverse kind of power.

What Kalafonos (2010) and Nguyen fail to consider is what could happen when health institutions continually pit individuals in an impoverished community against one another and what effects it can have on mental stability.

Levy, Webb and Sellen (2010) introduce even more complexity to food insecurity and HIV, in their article “‘On Our Own, We Can’t Manage’” where the authors evaluate the issue of breastfeeding when the mother is HIV positive in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Levy, Webb and Sellen note that replacement feeding, commonly known as formula, effectively eliminates transmission of HIV, except in populations where affordable and safe replacements for breast milk are scarce or nonexistent. Under such conditions, the authors state that it is best for the HIV positive mother to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months to keep the risk of transmission as low as possible (2010:5-6).

Levy, Webb and Sellen (2010) report that this information, though readily available, is often misunderstood by the mothers, and often creates impossible dilemmas for the new mothers to work through. For instance, if, after six months, the mother is to suddenly wean the infant, he or she will soon face malnutrition, as other nutritious food that a developing infant needs is not readily available or affordable. It is a seemingly impossible situation that Levy, Webb and Sellen do not have an answer for.

Mazzeo (2011) shows that HIV/AIDS can exacerbate food insecurity issues. As of 2010, in rural southeastern Zimbabwe, the main focus of Mazzeo’s study, was still struggling to recover from a food crisis that occurred in 2002 (2011:405). Their HIV/AIDS epidemic is cited as one of the main reasons, along with economic decline and drought, for increased and sustained levels of food insecurity in the Masvingo and Midlands provinces (2011:406).

HIV/AIDS contributes to food insecurity in very practical and tangible ways. Mazzeo argues that through the loss of adult labor, which is critical to household survival in rural Zimbabwe, and the scarcity of ART to treat the HIV/AIDS patients, HIV/AIDS has contributed to the continued food security problem (2011:407).

Selling cattle became a coping strategy during times of great food insecurity and drought, and an even more likely coping strategy if the individual also had HIV/AIDS. Mazzeo argues that this reason is because of the fact that HIV/AIDS positive individuals not only needed the cattle money for food, but to cover the expense of medications (2011:411).

Concurrently, Mazzeo argues that selling cattle is a problem, since it reduces the household’s ability to recover from future crises, and reduces productivity, as cattle have always been a staple in the livelihood of rural Zimbabwe (2011).


The major challenge with writing a review of the anthropological literature on food insecurity is that food insecurity affects and interacts with many other issues such as development policy, mental health, and infectious disease, and sometimes those issues overlap each other or are tried with other issues altogether.

I focused on policy primarily influenced by neoliberal ideology and how that affects food aid policy. As for mental health, I focused on the question of the line between food insecure and mentally unstable. Last, I focused on one disease and the various ways in which it relates to food insecurity. I therefore sacrificed being exhaustive in each category in favor of looking at the relationships in the anthropological literature between these categories.

In each of the three categories, there is a certain amount of cohesiveness. The body of anthropological literature aimed at studying the interplay of food insecurity and policy tends to fall in line with much of the work that has been written in the anthropology of development. These works cite neoliberalism as a hindrance to creating and implementing effective food policy, even Taussig, whose writing presaged what was to come.

In the case of mental health and food insecurity, every work reviewed delves into correlations and not causation. Although not explicitly stated, these anthropological works show that a lack of food does not cause common mental disorder (CMD); rather, it is the distress food insecurity brings that increased the potential for CMD.

The works concerning food insecurity as it pertains to HIV/AIDS all show the complexity of having to cope with multiple factors concerning health and well-being, as we saw with the combination of breastfeeding and HIV in Levy Webb and Sellen’s, work.

All of the of the categories have similar short comings. Primarily of with is a lack of dialogue between works. The works reviewed in the scope of food insecurity and policy were all written discretely over the course of over thirty years. These works fail to engage one another, as if they never encountered each other’s works.

Admittedly, within the realm of mental health and food insecurity though, a dialogue is emerging between some anthropologists. Hadley appears to be the most prominent voice on the topic as Cole and Tembo cite Hadley in their work; Hadley, as of 2012, is an assistant professor at Emory University where Maes received his doctorate in 2010. Dialogue encourages explication of these ideas and draws more attention to the topic. However, the dialogue found in the subject food insecurity and mental health is contained and barely acknowledges the other insecurities, nor other issues like the affects food policy has on mental stability.

This review did not delve into how food insecurity interacts with diseases other than HIV.  Simililarly, with the exception of Farmer and tuberculosis, none of the articles reviewed made notable mention other diseases relationship food insecurity. While comparing how separate diseases each affect food insecurity is difficult to accomplish in one study, doing so could strengthen our understanding of the interactions between hunger and disease more generally.

Scheper-Hughes (1990) writes that the critically applied medical anthropologist is to play the court jester, mocking and taunting the system one blow at a time. However, when critiques of any given issue are written sporadically, when they fail to converse with one another, when they cover such wide ranging sub-issues, it begs the question of how effective the court jester role is.

I hope this review does not convey a condemnation of anthropology’s work on food insecurity thus far. Anthropology, as shown in the works reviewed here, has much to offer the larger discourse on food insecurity. But anthropology can do more. More than ever, anthropologists needs to address food insecurity more consistently. The field has so much to offer to understanding hunger and food insecurity, one of the biggest problems the world faces and will continually have to face.


References Cited

Cole, Steven and Gelson Tembo

2011 The Effect of Food Insecurity on Mental Health: Panel Evidence from Rural Zambia. Social Science and Medicine 73:1071-1079.

Ennis-McMillan, Michael C.

2001 Suffering From Water: Social Origins of Bodily Distress in a Mexican Community. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 15(3):368-390.

Farmer, Paul

1999 Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ferguson, James

1994 The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depolitization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Foucault, Michel

1978 The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction. Vintage Books: New York.

Harvey, David

2005 A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jarosz, Lucy

2011 Defining World Hunger: Scale and Neoliberal Ideology in International Food Security Policy Discourse. Food, Culture and Society 14(1):117-139.

Kalafonos, Ippolytos A.

2010 “All I Eat is ARVs”: The Paradox of AIDS Treatment Interventions in Central Mozambique. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 24(3):363-380.

Khanum, Sultana Mustafa

2002 The Role of the World Food Programme on People’s Access to Food in Bangladesh: Myth and Reality. South Asian Anthropologist 2(2):113-122.

Levy, Jennifer M., Daniel W. Sellen, and Aimee L. Webb

2010 “On Our Own, We Can’t Manage”: Experiences With Infant Feeding Recommendations Among Malawian Mothers Living With HIV. International Breastfeeding Journal 5(15):15-22.

Maes, Kenneth and Selamawit Shifferaw

2011 Cycles of Poverty, Food Insecurity and Psychological Stress Among Volunteers in Urban Ethiopia. Annals of Anthropological Practice 35(1):98-115.

Marchione, Thomas J. and Ellen Messer

2010  Food Aid and the World Hunger Solution: Why the U.S. Should Use a Human Rights Approach. Food and Foodways 18:10-27.

Mazzeo, John

2011 Cattle, Livelihoods, and Coping with Food Insecurity in the Context of Drought and HIV/AIDS in Rural Zimbabwe. Human Organization 70(4):405-415.

Nguyen, Vinh-Kim

2010 The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS. Durham: Duke University Press.

Pottier, Johan

1999 The Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Security. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy

1990 Three Propositions for a Critically Applied Medical Anthropology. Social Science and Medicine 30(2):189-197.

1992 Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Taussig, Michael

1978 Nutrition, Development, and Foreign Aid: A Case Study of U.S.-Directed Health Care in a Colombian Plantation Zone. International Journal of Health Services 8(1): 101-121.

Weaver, Leslie Jo, and Craig Hadley

2009 Moving Beyond Hunger and Nutrition: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Linking Food Insecurity and Mental Health in Developing Countries. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 48(4):263-284.

World Food Programme (WFP)

2011 Hunger Stats. Electronic document,, accessed March 1, 2012.

Natalie Sylvester is a candidate for an M.A. in anthropology at the George Washington University. She has a double concentration in medical anthropology and international development. She attained her B.A. in anthropology and history from the University of Houston, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Natalie also works at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. In her free time she is a yoga novice and an aspiring cook.

3 thoughts on “State of hunger: Food insecurity’s place in anthropology

  1. Donna DiMassa

    I read your article with great interest. It is alarming that something as elemental as sustenance is so problematic for so many. You have helped enlighten a murky and complicated dilemma.


  2. Naresh Rimal

    Please share your work once completed. I am finishing my PhD in food security and development aid from social science perspective, a case study of Nepali village.


  3. Pingback: Anthropology Dynamics Food Food Security Social | Best Home Security Tech

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