Food, water, and scarcity: Toward a broader anthropology of resource insecurity

Amber Wutich, Alexandra Slade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Food and water shortages are two of the greatest challenges facing humans in the coming century. While our theoretical understanding of how humans become vulnerable to and cope with hunger is relatively well developed, anthropological research on parallel problems in the water domain is limited. By carefully considering well-established propositions derived from the food literature against what is known about water, our goal in this essay is to advance identifying, theorizing, and testing a broader anthropology of resource insecurity. Our analysis focuses on (1) the causes of resource insecurity at the community level, (2) "coping" responses to resource insecurity at the household level, and (3) the effect of insecurity on emotional well-being and mental health at the individual level. Based on our findings, we argue that human experiences of food and water insecurity are sufficiently similar to facilitate a broader theory of resource insecurity, including in how households and individuals cope. There are also important differences between food and water insecurity, including the role of structural factors (such as markets) in creating community-level vulnerabilities. These suggest food and water insecurity may also produce household struggles and individual suffering along independent pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-468
Number of pages25
JournalCurrent anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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