An exploratory study of client culture, meat perceptions, social climate, and information preferences in northwest Indiana food pantries

Amanda C Gee, Purdue University


Food insecurity has been an increasingly important, and troubling, issue across the nation and world in the last 20 years. Definitions of food insecurity vary, but the core idea is that food insecure people are unable to acquire enough food to have a healthy life. Lack of dependable access to healthy food can lead to additional concerns. Visiting hunger-relief organizations is one of the primary coping strategies used by the food insecure. In the U.S., approximately 46.5 million individuals, or 17.5 million households – more than 14 percent of the population – used the hunger-relief network Feeding America in 2013. This network includes food banks and food pantries, and individuals using these organizations are referred to as food pantry clients. Few studies have focused on food insecurity at the individual client and individual pantry level. The current exploratory research was designed to explore client culture, client perceptions of meat quality and packaging, social climate of pantries, and information preferences in a selected community of northwest Indiana food pantries. Specifically, the research objectives were to: 1) describe the culture of food pantry clients, especially clients’ values and perceptions towards meat in the diet and meat donated to pantries; 2) describe the social climate of selected food pantries; and 3) investigate food pantry client preferences for receiving information about food and learning food preparation techniques. The study used two theoretical perspectives, social cognitive theory and means-end chain theory, to investigate how and why clients make decisions about food. Three sources of qualitative data, client interviews, pantry director interviews, and pantry observations, were collected and analyzed. Findings revealed that, when planning a meal, clients valued good health, children’s futures, and feeding themselves and their family. Most clients perceived meat to be important in their diets, and preferred chicken or beef to other meats. On average, they perceived the meat and meat packaging received through pantries to be adequate to good. Clients communicated a preference for more information on foods available at pantries. They also expressed a reliance on pantries, but the reliance involved a number of complex nuances. Recommendations for the selected food bank, food pantries, and future research include: 1) the need to define protein in the context of agency, 2) the need to examine context-dependent agency in the realm of pantries and available food choices, and 3) the need to critically examine avenues for information sharing.




Tucker, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Communication|Agricultural education

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