After volunteering at the mobile food pantry earlier today, I’ve come to realize that spending time in a classroom discussing health experiences for the marginalized does little in comparison to actually witnessing the effects of marginalization on vulnerable populations firsthand. For the first time in this project, I saw how the meanings of those experiencing health disadvantages were overshadowed and neglected by the structural interests of those in privileged positions. Consequentially, I also recognized how traditional approaches to health communication could blatantly neglect these perspectives, leaving the problem of food insecurity far from resolved.
As Dutta suggests, “The silencing of voices of community members is achieved through the circulation of discourse that continues to construct the community as passive and voiceless, and advances policies and programs without the participation of the community...which constructs the community as incapable of participation.” My co-volunteer was asked by a program coordinator to ask 3 questions of individuals before getting in line for food, including an assessment of how often they struggled with getting food, where they got food from, and how they made use of the mobile pantry. Each response was tallied to create a numeric count, and as the program coordinator explained to us, such results would be used in crafting grants for the parent organization. As I overheard her asking these questions to individuals, it was hard not to listen to the emotional stories and experiences shared, to want to cry with them, simply in response to 3 very short questions. The act of turning their voice into a tally mark to be used for structural purposes, de-individualizing and de-contextualizing the person and moment, is so disheartening. These individuals have a voice that they want heard, but it seems as though no one has been willing to listen. Is there food insecurity in rural Indiana? After today, I have no doubt. It is a very real problem experienced by real people who have stories to tell, and it is truly unfortunate that their voices are so often neglected. Today, my commitment to the culture-centered approach was astoundingly affirmed.
Through the lens of the dominant paradigm, problems of food insecurity would be framed as problems at the level of the individual, where changing attitudes and beliefs to control behavioral enactment would be marked as intervention goals. I was assigned to pass out brochures to individuals from the SNAP food assistance program today, and I couldn’t help but think that I was furthering a message-based health communication perspective where one might believe that giving individuals information in brochure form, seeking to change attitudes about food assistance and their efficacy to take part in such a program, would magically solve the food insecurity crisis. Dutta notes, “Individual-level interventions posed by those in power at the center continue to look at health as a commodity and simultaneously remove any type of discussion about redistributive justice.” I was a part of the center today, distributing food as a commodity to those more in need than myself while ignoring the fact that this food would likely be gone in a week or two, leaving these individuals in a position of submissive reliance on a powerful system that I’m not so sure has their best interest in mind. As a number of individuals stopped to thank us before leaving, I couldn’t help but wonder if receiving thanks was appropriate.