Chhaya Kolavalli Doctoral Dissertation Research: Understandings of Food Insecurity and Urban Space in Kansas City

Grants and Contracts Details


Overview: During preliminary research in Kansas City, I found "blight" is spoken of frequently and carries a number of different connotations. Blight is loosely defined as a "social liability" in the city's 2015 Urban Agriculture Zone Ordinance (Article VI; Missouri 2015)-which provides tax incentives for urban farming on "blighted" lots, envisioned as means of ameliorating food insecurity. But some self-identified black urban farmers used blight as a verb to signify America's historical legacy of legalized racism, actualized in urban spaces through restrictive covenants and racially-prejudicial zoning (Gordon 2008; Sugrue 1996). One black farmer told me, in reference to preferential city government investment in a neighboring community over her own-"we are being blighted…they are leaving us to blight." This project critically examines the intersection, hinted at in this excerpt, of racialization, neoliberal welfare provisioning, and urban development, asking: how do low-income minority residents of Kansas City neighborhoods, targeted for service by food justice programs, experience and conceptualize food insecurity and means of addressing it? The food justice movement-a nation-wide effort, led by a myriad of activists, nonprofits, and community organizers, to involve low-income people of color in urban food production and consumption (Slocum and Cadieux 2015)-is a third sector attempt to alleviate urban poverty and hunger, arising with the dismantling of the US welfare state (Goode and Maskovksy 2001). Such third-sector urban hunger alleviation programs are enacted within historically racialized cityscapes (cf. Omi and Winant 1994; Schein 2006), where "service populations" reside within neighborhoods shaped by racially restrictive covenants, prejudicial renting and loaning practices, and the increasingly "militarized" city (Davis 1990; Low 2009). The food justice movement is part of a broader national conversation focused on addressing hunger within US cities. A methodological toolkit of urban food classificatory tools and projects-including USDA food desert maps, community gardening, mobile farmers markets, among others-is being utilized and promoted by actors at national, state, and private levels efforts to address urban food insecurity. This research project investigates the racialization process at the center of, but often unquestioned, in food justice work. This project draws on pilot research conducted in Kansas City, which identified an active food justice movement and rising tension around racialized urban space, and focuses on Grown in Ivanhoe: a publicly-lauded, self-identified African American urban gardening collective/farmer's market in an area city officials refer to as a "food desert"-to investigate understandings of race, racialized urban geography, and food insecurity in a food justice "service population." This project utilizes an ethnographic approach and employs semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and interactive social mapping-data analysis will occur throughout research: field notes, maps, and interviews will be continually reviewed, coded, and analyzed for analytic themes. Intellectual Merit: This project advances anthropological scholarship on food insecurity, social welfare policy under US neoliberalism, racialized space in US cities, whiteness, and alternative agrifood movements. By asking how residents of neighborhoods constructed in dominant city and food policy discourse as "low-income," "minority," and "service populations" actively navigate racialized representations and geographies in relation to food insecurity, this research adds to ethnographic inquiry into the lived experience of hunger (Scheper-Hughes 1992; Carney 2015), understandings of the effects of neoliberal privatized welfare provision, and racialized urban space. This project adds to understandings of alternative agrifood movements by contributing a critical perspective on the diversity of classed, race, and political perspectives within the food justice movement, often glossed as a cohesive entity. Broader Impacts: Food justice initiatives and the creation of urban gardens and farmers markets are often spoken of as unequivocal benefits to urban citizens. This project will focus on the perspectives of those often represented, but not listened to, in food justice work: the service population. The findings of this project will inform community policy recommendations, bringing the voices of low-income urban residents of color to the attention of city officials. This document will be workshopped in focus groups with food insecure residents in Ivanhoe, and shared with the city governments of Kansas City and local stakeholders in food justice and urban development, who have expressed interest in the findings of this project. Findings will be shared with food justice organizers across the US via publications in the Cultivate KC Newsletter, distributed nation-wide.
Effective start/end date1/1/17 → 12/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $18,107.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.