Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Deborah L. Tolman

Committee Members

Mimi Abramovitz

Willie Tolliver

Rosemary Barberet

Subject Categories

Social Work


This study uses foodways theory to build knowledge about the lived experience of incarceration by analyzing women’s narratives about prison food and eating. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 formerly incarcerated women in New Haven, CT. The interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed. Findings explain the different ways that inmates collect, prepare, distribute and consume food, and the centrality of these activities to incarcerated life. By shedding light on these daily routines, the world of prison life comes into greater focus.

Thematic analysis of the data further illuminates the prison experience by suggesting the positive and negative ways that food impacts inmate’s perceptions of themselves, their social networks and the State. Negative foodways humiliated the women, accentuated their powerlessness, and reinforced their perceptions of the State as nonsensical and apathetic towards their needs. Positive foodways illustrated the inmates’ capacity to resist State power, build/maintain relationships and construct positive self-narratives. Racialized foodways narratives began to reveal how food stories may be deployed to reinforce prison’s racial character and construct the identities of self and other.

Foodways interventions to support the rehabilitative goals of correctional facilities are proposed. These data suggest that inmates want to build positive relationships and identities and that prison food systems could do more to help women realize these intentions.

Included in

Social Work Commons