Access to healthy food vs. utilization of the access available – Making sense of the mayhem


The food exploration continues.

I will be discussing our steps between my last blog post: Intro to Rigor/Applying the Q1 learnings to research where we were still initially dipping our feet into the space and then I will be furthering that to our initial findings in the sense making and understanding phase.

Finishing up research and coming to realization

The realization:

‘Many people have access, yet they are still not eating in a way they deem healthy or desirable.’

Why are people not utilizing the resources around them to the fullest extent? What an interesting question. This was the team’s epiphany as we moved through the middle of our research process.

It was a difficult and increasingly interesting concept to discover.

Throughout our research participants we found that there were financial and physical barriers to certain stores and certain kinds and categories of food (fresh produce, organic, restaurants etc.) yet in every case the participants were not fully utilizing the access that they had in the ways that they optimally would have been using them.

We interviewed 4 employees from organizations that are already working in the social service arena of the food space. We spoke with The Sustainable Food Center, and The Central Texas Food Bank which are both working to increase access to food physically, educationally, and financially. Foundation Communities, and Caritas which are low income housing organizations that also have internal initiatives in regards to food. These take the form of food pantries and programs in partnership with other alike organizations. We spoke with 4 food industry employees, a local restaurant owner, a corner store manager, a dietician, and an employee at a local produce home delivery service. Finally, we spoke with 10 participants from low to middle class incomes. Including the oldest WWII vet still alive, he is 110 years old!

In the experience of the large majority of our participants, there were events related to addictive tendencies, disease or family situations that were strong fast reasoning’s for making a change. They knew, generally the actions they needed, and/or strongly desired, to take yet also expressed a multitude of examples of how they were not meeting those goals and it was hurting their lives both physically for their bodies as well as mentally and emotionally because they were experiencing varying degrees of self-sabotage due to food being so damn tempting and delicious, yet, in the core truth of it, they didn’t want to be taking those unhealthy actions.

It reminded me very well of my own walk with cigarettes. I truly don’t want to be smoking, yet for some stupid (chemical) reason I have continued to pick them up again. When we started to see addictive tendencies in our participants experiences it was easy for me to drop into the empathy mindset. I could relate what I saw in the world and what I have experienced in myself.

From this knowledge, our team discussed a pivot in focus. Where we ended up was “We want to understand why people don’t eat a balanced diet when they have access to more nutritious food.” This sparked a whole new slew of questions; “What were people placing value on?” “What were the influences surrounding folks’ situations and decisions?” “What is cool? And how does coolness play a role in what we eat?” Questions like this started to emerge and so, yet again, we revamped the orientation of our questioning to accommodate this new direction.

This pivot felt justified for 2 main reasons, first and foremost because of our findings in regards to people not fully utilizing the access to healthier foods even when there were very tangible reasons to do so. Followed by the discussions we had with those 4 food access and low income focused organizations who illustrated well that there is large quantities of money, resources and time being put into reducing barriers to food access. We acknowledged that those services were not feeding the need 100% and there was definitely room for new ideas and innovation, however, based on the data we had collected it seemed like the louder pattern was that of the level of utilization of the access available.


Moving into making sense of it all through synthesis


We experienced a bottleneck during transcription of the interviews where we were ready to start the sense making process but did not have all of our transcription done. This proved problematic and set us back a few days. We hammered it out and dove into the sea of data points.


Our initial findings were related to some overarching themes that we synthesized in our minds during interviews. We discovered during debriefs with our team after our time in people’s homes that there were common barriers to people actualizing their healthy eating goals. Some of these are time, ancestral influence, disease, addiction, justifications, finances, location, the tempting nature of food, and education barriers to name a few.


This illustrates the first pass of a cultural model to illustrate the influences all people are experiencing in regards to food and food choices, whether they are aware of it or not. That is the interesting piece!! Are we aware of what impacts our choices? Our participants that expressed awareness around the ways their family members (etc.) influenced them seemed much more capable of harnessing  control over their actions in terms of what they ate.

We are walking the interesting line between broken systems and a lack of education. Where we will focus in terms of development is still unclear.