Democratizing Food Access: Implications for Food-Agentic Technologies among the Food Insecure


Numerous communities across America struggle with limited access to fresh produce and affordable, healthy foods, fueling a crisis in obesity and corresponding health complications. The conditions that give rise to these ‘food deserts’ are the product of commodified social, political, and economical structures that entrench barriers to access. To identify the challenges and opportunities to intervene, we conducted semi-structured, ethnographic interviews, in-home visits and shop-alongs with individuals from identified food deserts. The ingenuity and resilience of our participants in accessing food while addressing cost constraints and navigating logistical barriers was both insightful and impressive. These findings highlight numerous strategies for the planning and purchasing of food with broad implications for emergent food-agentic technologies, particularly in the aftermath of a global pandemic reshaping social and economic practices. This paper shares strategies deployed by the food insecure to optimize food access, meal planning and budget constraints with corresponding design implications for a variety of technologies. Findings also highlight shopper archetypes informing meal planning and purchasing behaviors, that upend conventional approaches to shopping app design. Understanding authentic behaviors around access to food holds the key to designing alternatives that leverage the promise of technologies to democratize food access and nutrition beyond economic and geographic barriers. The benefits of technology have not accrued equitably, while efficiencies currently afforded by online shopping are less relevant to the food insecure. Our aim is to highlight new opportunities to align technological capabilities with human need and catalyze innovation in support of the greater good.


Ann-Marie Conrado
Associate Professor, Art, Art History and Design, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—New Agendas for Design: Principles of Scale, Practices of Inclusion


Inclusivity, Technology, Human-Computer Interaction, Social Justice, Food Insecurity, Design Research

Digital Media


Democratizing Food Access (pdf)