Update from the field: Interviews in Public Housing Communities

This quarter my research is focused on interactions and behaviors associated with food purchasing and preparation among lower income individuals. I’ve found the most difficult part of the process to be recruitment. I intentionally decided to avoid organizations that work with lower income individuals because I’ve found the navigation of organizational¬†hierarchies¬†to be cumbersome and inefficient. Instead I’ve been hanging outside of grocery stores in parts of town where cost of living is low, and asking people if they would let me watch them shop and ask questions. While this has resulted in some great discussions and observations, it quickly realized that to gain better insight I needed to go to people’s houses and see the space where they prepare food. While most of the people I interviewed were happy to let me watch them shop, they were staunchly opposed to me coming over to their house.

In an attempt to watch lower income individuals cooked, last night I wandered around public housing communities in Austin. I was shocked/slightly disappointed in myself with how out of place I felt. ¬†I was walking in neighborhoods and complexes that were 10 minutes down the road but I definitely felt like I did not belong. As I walked past groups of people sitting outside talking, conversations stopped, people stared. When I asked if I could watch them cook, the responses were either, “No,” or “Come back another night.” I had people come up to me and ask, what I was doing, if I was looking to buy drugs, or if I was an undercover cop.

I did have one good conversation with a young man who asked to not be photographed or recorded. Before letting me in his house, he made me lift up my shirt to show that I was not “wired.” He showed me his kitchen, his refrigerator, and his pantry, then we sat on his porch and talked about food, housing, and life. About 45 minutes into his conversation, he quickly stopped and said it was getting to unsafe for me to be there and that I needed to leave.

Off to do some more sense making of the data I’ve collected thus far.

We’ll see what happens tonight.