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Food security and insecurity in older adults : a phenomenological ethnographic study

King, AC 2014 , 'Food security and insecurity in older adults : a phenomenological ethnographic study', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Experiences of food, meals, and eating that are nourishing, enjoyable, and nutritious are
crucial for older adults who are seeking to maintain their health and wellbeing while ‘ageing
in place’. Food insecurity poses a threat to these aspirations. Although existing research has
produced useful insights into food insecurity in older adults, it has not always fully engaged
with the highly subjective, complex, and dynamic nature of the phenomenon.
The thesis addresses these gaps in knowledge by applying philosophical perspectives from
phenomenological ethnography to explore implicit meanings in older adults’ experiences of
food, meals, and eating, and then consider their significance for understandings of food
security and insecurity in older adults. The thesis takes a phenomenological view of human
beings as embedded in lifeworlds characterised by meaningful actions and experiences,
including those involving food.
Phenomenological ethnographic methods of repeated in-depth interviews, walking
interviews, and observation were conducted in the home environments of 21 communitydwelling
older adults, aged between 72 and 90 years, in rural Tasmania, Australia. Casebased
analyses informed biographical sketches of these older adults’ rich, varied, and often
challenging lives. The main findings were generated by thematic analyses and pertain to
four dimensions of the phenomenological lifeworld – subjective, intersubjective, placebased,
and temporal.
Exploring subjective dimensions revealed these older adults as highly engaged with food
and life. Exploring intersubjective dimensions revealed how older adults’ eating experiences
are infused with their social identities and relationships. Exploring place dimensions
revealed how older adults’ complex, deep, and nuanced relationships with different places
inform their food experiences. Finally, exploring temporal dimensions revealed how time
permeates older adults’ eating lives, whether in terms of quotidian activities or the grand
sweep of life from childhood to old age. The thesis considers these findings and their significance, and generates new
understandings of food security and insecurity in older adults. Perspectives from
interpretative phenomenology, anthropology, sociology, and social gerontology are woven together to inform a theoretical argument for an interrelationship between food security
and ontological security in older adults’ lives. The contribution of the doctoral thesis lies in
developing a more in-depth and substantial theoretical perspective on food security and
insecurity in older adults, which has implications for policy and practice. The thesis reveals
rural older adults who are engaging with food and life with considerable perseverance,
resilience, and agency, even in the face of bodily and social contingencies of ageing.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:King, AC
Keywords: food security, food insecurity, older adults, rural, phenomenology, ethnography
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Copyright 2014 the Author

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