What’s In a Name? Policy Implications of an Evolving Definition of Food Security

By Natalie Tolley and Jennifer K. Ibrahim.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

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A policy is effective only to the degree that it first correctly identifies a problem, and then uses appropriate means to address the problem. This paper illustrates the role of discourse and issue definition in effective policymaking for the issue of food insecurity, or hunger. Using media data from 1974–2009, we used conceptual content analysis and historical survey to examine issue definition prevalence, policy images, framing, and mobilization. The what, when, and who of issue definition becomes a foundation for formulating food insecurity policy. Hunger and food insecurity are distinctly different: hunger is a physiological manifestation of severe food insecurity due to lack of or reduce food intake; food insecurity refers more generally to economic and social conditions promoting access to sufficient nutritious food. Findings indicate that ‘hunger’ is the preferred terminology in media coverage and the actual definition of hunger is implied more often than the definition of food insecurity, despite the latter’s broad nature and diverse dimensions. The policy images most associated with food insecurity were policy and anti-hunger advocacy. The diversification of policy images over time is much less than expected indicating that emerging issues relating health and food-system approaches to food security may not be as well integrated into discourse and policymaking as the full definition of food security would require. In more recent years the media has endorsed some convergence in the level at which various dimensions and policy images are used to portray food security. We find that the evolution of food security conceptualization is ongoing. Food and agriculture policies, such as the Farm Bill, are dependent on the public and policymakers understanding the complexity of food security in order to enact farm- and health-friendly policy. The discourse surrounding and defining hunger and food security are key inroads to comprehensive, effective outcomes.

Keywords: Food Insecurity, Public Health, Public Policy, Problem Definition, Agenda Setting, Farm Bill

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.61-78. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 625.935KB).

Natalie Tolley

PhD Candidate, Department of Public Health, Temple University, Kensington, MD, USA

Natalie M. Tolley, MPH is a Ph.D. candidate in public health at Temple University. She completed her Master of Public Health at Yale University, where she conducted original research on religious institutions' HIV/AIDS prevention messages in Cameroon. Her research and teaching interests extend to both domestic and international hunger, food security systems, and the role of public health research and interest groups in policymaking and innovation.

Jennifer K. Ibrahim

Associate Professor of Public Health and Law, Department of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Jennifer Ibrahim is an Associate Professor of Public Health and Law at Temple University and the Associate Director of the National Program Office for Public Health Law Research. Dr. Ibrahim's research focuses on the role of law and policy in tobacco control and food safety at the state and national levels.