Food roots & today’s pantry: The multiple meanings of “Thrifty know-how” among older african American women


In this article we put the themes of agency, food tradition, and time, into conversation with research on aging and food security to offer an intersectional analysis of older African American women’s foodways. In particular, we explore the food provisioning practices of a group of older African American women in the U.S. South. We examine the various ways age, resources (monetary and non-monetary), gender, and Black food traditions shape everyday practices like shopping, cooking, and eating. Additionally, we explore the varied ways particpant’s past experiences, current social and health, and desires for the future contribute to their food choices. This multidimensional approach to understanding the relationship between aging and food moves beyond the point-in-time and income-expenditure frameworks often used in food security research to consider alternative ways of conceptualizing food resources and thrift. We find that participants’ practices of thrift, like couponing, buying in bulk, and food budgeting, are not always or only reflective of economic constraints. Rather, we argue that participants’ “thrifty know-how” operates as a form of gendered cultural capital that they draw on to navigate changing social and physical conditions and food goals over time. By using an intersectional lens and paying attention to older African-American women’s agency, food knowledge, and the role of time – past, present, and future – this article makes visible the the complex and dynamic relationship between aging and food.

Publication Title

Anthropology and Aging