Good Shepherd Food Bank is collaborating with Tufts and Duke Universities on a research study titled “From Scarcity to Prosperity,” which investigates food choices and challenges for low-income people. Funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the study involves quantitative and qualitative research methodology to understand the cost of healthy food and the barriers people face to eating how they would like.
Co-investigators Dr. Sara Folta, Dr. Norbert Wilson, and Dr. Parke Wilde are well-known for their nutrition, behavior, and agricultural economics research. Recently their publications have included an investigation of micro-pantries as an emergency food source during the Covid-19 pandemic (Wilson & Folta 2022) and a comparative study of differences in food-at-home spending for SNAP and non-SNAP households given geographic price variation (Wilde 2020).
The quantitative side of the Scarcity to Prosperity study looks at the cost of healthy food using calculations like those used to create the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan (the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit amounts). For the qualitative side of the study, neighbors from across four states, including Maine, participated in interviews exploring their challenges and concerns about accessing healthy food and their aspirations for eating well. A second phase of interviews with food pantry staff will begin this spring to contextualize these findings.
Good Shepherd Food Bank’s research manager, Dr. Donovan Kelley, and representatives from the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, and the Food Bank of Northern and Eastern North Carolina advised the principal researchers on the direction and design of the quantitative and qualitative studies. With help from Community Resource Representative Angie Adams and food pantry volunteers and staff, Good Shepherd Food Bank also connected researchers to neighbors willing to share their food stories.
The first interviews, which wrapped up at the end of 2022, included eight Mainers ranging in age from late 20s to early 60s. Twenty-seven interviewees from Nevada, Massachusetts, and North Carolina filled out the list, providing a robust picture of food experiences across the country and helping to contextualize the study’s quantitative findings. Specific findings are not yet available to the public. Still, researchers anticipate that the results may show that people with low incomes have food and nutrition goals not met by current levels of federal and local support. Additionally, the qualitative results may reflect barriers to healthy food access like transportation and physical disability or illness that are not directly accounted for in the Thrifty Food Plan – the cost basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which determines how much food assistance money a household receives per month. This research is particularly relevant as pandemic-era SNAP benefit boosts give way to reduced amounts for many households. The three-year study will conclude in 2024, and results will be available in public reports and academic papers. The outcomes of this study will inform SNAP policy, nutrition education, and the emergency food system.
- Wilson N, Calancie L, Adkins J, Folta S. Understanding Micro-pantries as an Emergency Food Source During the COVID-19 Pandemic. J Nutr Education and Behavior. 2022 Apr. 54(4):299-310. Epub 2022 Jan 14.
- Ismail MS, Ver Ploeg M, Chomitz VR, Wilde P. Differences in Food-at-Home Spending for SNAP and non-SNAP Households Given Geographic Price Variation. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020 Jul; 120(7):1142-1150.e12.