Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David A. Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy Romero-Daza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rita DeBate, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Susan Greenbaum, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda A. Detman, Ph.D.


Maternal Isolation, Household Food Security, Intensive Mothering, Ethnography


The objective of this dissertation is to document the lived experience of mothering in poverty and the unique challenges the role of mother presents to maintaining food security. Millions of households in the United States are struggling to put food on the table, a problem made worse by the current economic recession and high food prices. Among them, households with children and specifically, single mothers, report the highest prevalence of food insecurity. While Federal food assistance programs are available to help alleviate this issue, the continued problem of hunger is a very real and pervasive concern for millions of American families.

While there is a robust and comprehensive scholarly body of work focused on food security and nutrition, this study fills an important gap in the literature. By describing the unique social and cultural circumstances that accompany the transition to motherhood in a low-income setting, I connect the lived experienced of mothering with vulnerability to food insecurity. This is framed within the underlying assumption that the related experiences of expectant mothering and caring for an infant impart different risk factors for food insecurity.

This study used a mixed methods approach to examine its objectives. These include semi-structured ethnographic interviews, participant observation, surveys and questionnaires and foodscape analysis. The mixed method design allowed for a holistic examination of the lived experience of mothers through narrative analysis, the visual representation of their foodscape through community mapping, and the triangulation of findings through administered surveys and questionnaires.

The primary findings of this dissertation include identification of social, cultural and geographic patterns of maternal isolation among low-income women and their impact on food security. Results of this study indicate that the unique demands of mothering in a low-income setting present challenges to maintaining food security. Gaps in services provided to low-income mothers to address food insecurity were identified to include improving the social connectedness of expectant and new mothers.

This study is intended to reach a wide target audience including students, practitioners, anthropological colleagues and policymakers. In an effort to translate the findings of this study into practical recommendations for action, the author calls for more research into the issue of maternal isolation and for policy initiatives to recognize the unique role mothering plays in contributing to household food security status.

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