A Critical Look at Food Security in Social Work: Applying the Socio-ecological Lens

Elisabeth Ragan, Gina Dimitropoulos


One in six children under the age of 18 in Canada lives in a food insecure household.  This is deeply concerning as the presence of food insecurity can disrupt developmental trajectories potentially impacting the lifespan of a child.  However, when compared to other social problems, food security takes a backseat.  Twenty-four years ago, a call to action was issued to social workers to make food security a priority within their practice. The literature demonstrates a slow but encouraging rise in the number of social workers heeding that call. This paper provides a critical analysis of twenty-one articles investigating social work and food security interventions.  The articles were published in peer-reviewed, academic journals between 1993 and 2016.  The socio-ecological model was used to guide the review of the articles to help extrapolate how social workers can address food security at the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem level.  Forty-three interventions were identified. Most of the interventions considered the exosystem and macrosystem level of practice, which highlighted the importance of building strong communities and implementing policies for “food justice”.  The results also indicate that front-line social workers are well suited for food security interventions, but comprehensive research on how microsystem, mesosystem and chronosystem level strategies are best executed would help bring them to fruition.  Furthermore, implementing food security into social work curriculum and becoming food conscious themselves was highly recommended.


food security; intervention; socioecological model

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