The dissertation examines the influences on and implications of food banks’ efforts to improve the healthfulness of food distributed at food banks through an embedded mixed- methods approach consisting of two interrelated studies. Guided by Resource Dependence Theory, Diffusion of Innovation Theory, and the Social Ecological Model, the research considered both organizational and contextual factors that shape organizational behavior.
Study One examined the determinants of nutrition policy and practice adoption among food banks and the relationship of policy and practice adoption to nutritional quality of food bank inventory using data collected in the 2017 MAZON National Food Bank Survey Assessment of Nutrition Practices and Policies as well as other publicly available data. Study results showed that organizational and contextual characteristics of food banks helped to explain the adoption of nutrition-based food banking strategies and measures of inventory quality.
Study Two explored how organizations within the charitable food system responded to recent trends to improve the nutritional quality of food bank inventory using data collected from a descriptive case study with an adopter and non-adopter food bank and in-depth interviews with representatives from nation-level key stakeholders. National stakeholders in the charitable food system described a sense of progress that had been made in recent years to promote the distribution of healthier foods both ideologically and operationally. Despite this progress, participants reported continued challenges embedded in the structure of the charitable food system that would continue to make the distribution of nutritionally dense foods difficult. With respect to the case study, findings showed that despite differences in nutrition-strategy adoption status, both case study sites were actively prioritizing the sourcing and distribution of healthier foods. Relationships were a central focus of the organizations’ work and the interviewees at food banks were focused on the need to develop pantries for the changing inventory streams.
Overall, the findings from this dissertation used multiple perspectives to advance our understanding of healthy eating promotion at food banks with the anticipation that improving the nutritional quality at food banks will have ripple effects throughout the charitable food system.