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Understanding Dynamic Food Practices and Challenges in Access Among the Urban Poor

By February 6, 2021December 20th, 2023No Comments

Excerpts from the YUVA-IIHS study ‘Lived Experiences in the City’s Foodscape’

Several street vendors set up shop on the road leading to RNA Colony, Vashi Naka, Chembur, adding to the convenience of residents. Photo credit — Radhika

Growing urbanisation in India, induced by stress migration has often been accompanied by several developmental challenges related to expanding informal settlements in the absence of adequate housing, poverty, unemployment and increasing inequalities. Amidst these concerns, is also the rising issue of food insecurity with a growing need to be redefined from an urban context and developing a composite understanding of the interconnected nature of these issues.

With regard to food practices, for instance, Kanchan from the settlement of Tata Nagar in Belapur, Navi Mumbai, shared, ‘Our parents used to bring stuff from the farms and we used to eat it. It was original. Now it’s different. Before, we didn’t even know that you could fall sick. We didn’t know what it was like to become unwell. Now, for the past seven years I’ve been too sick. The sickness is a lot and I have been on pills. It was very different in the villages.’

Savita, a street vendor from Tata Nagar said, ‘Sometimes we feel like eating good quality rice, but then we feel instead of putting in too much money too soon, we should save it. If we spend money today then may be in the future we will have problems. We think this way and then we eat whatever we get.’

Kanika, a resident of the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) RNA colony in Vashi Naka, Chembur, who switched from working at a mall to vending vegetables found the flexibility of her new work timings liberating.

The findings of the study suggested a linkage between the denial of habitat rights and experiences of food shortage, inadequate and unhealthy food consumption. In the absence of state support, people often turned to other social structures for support — neighbours, family, civil society organisations and inter-class relations formed through paid domestic work.

Our study with Indian Institute for Human Settlements used a qualitative research methodology and an exploratory approach in trying to expand the understanding of food security in urban areas from a purely functional purpose to include people’s preferences, aspirations and restrictions limiting their access and choices. The study also highlighted the gendered nature of food production in the household and the double burden faced by women of being the primary income providers and caregivers. People’s knowledge, practices, livelihood and family dynamics were analysed to formulate a nuanced understanding of what food-related choices are made by them and why. Further, the larger role of the state in mitigating food insecurity has been discussed, by firstly fixing current systems of implementation and recommendations made for local level policy initiatives to account for regional disparities and preferences over nationwide regulations focussing only on calorific values. The study forms a starting point in initiating dialogues to broaden the concept of food security and including the urban poor and their preferences in the process.

This blog contains excerpts from the study. Read the complete study here.

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