Food consumption and urban poverty: an ethnographic study

Pierluigi Musarò


Focusing on the emergence of old and new forms of social fragility, the paper investigates the dynamic and multi-dimensional relationship among food consumption, urban spaces and population living below the poverty line. Our starting point is that food is primarily a social fact. In cooking, eating and feeding one another, humans have throughout history celebrated the social nature of food consumption, the fact that food sends messages to body and mind, and that the journey from field and farm to kitchen and mouth is a social journey, made attractive by the bonds of kinship, friendship and companionship.
Drawing on case studies, participant observation and non-standard interviews on life history, the empirical study in this article explores the experiences of food insecurity among urban soup kitchen consumers in soup kitchens and day centers in Bologna, North of Italy, and in Kent, South-East of England. In particular, on the basis of a comparative ethnographic research (which counts on 83 in-depth interviews), realized in 4 soup kitchens and 2 day centres in Kent, South-East of England and in Bologna, North of Italy, the article reflects on the limits of welfare state and, specifically, exploring the cost of social stigma and isolation which are experienced by the poor who have to accept humiliating social spaces and conditions in which they consume food.


soup kitchen; food; poverty

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