Who should feed hungry families during crisis? Moral claims about hunger on Twitter during the COVID-19 pandemic

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How do crisis conditions affect longstanding societal narratives about hunger? This paper examines how hunger was framed in public discourse during an early period in the COVID-19 crisis to mobilize attention and make moral claims on others to alleviate it. It does so through a discourse analysis of 1023 U.S.-based English-language posts dedicated to hunger on Twitter during four months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis finds that Twitter users chiefly adopted hunger as a political tool to make moral claims on the state rather than individuals, civil society organizations, or corporations; however, hunger was deployed to defend widely diverse political agendas ranging from progressive support for SNAP entitlements to conservative claims reinforcing anti-lockdown and racist "America First" sentiments. Theoretically, the paper contributes to understanding how culture and morality operate in times of crisis. It demonstrates how culture can be deployed in crisis to reinforce longstanding ideological commitments at the same time that it organizes political imaginations in new ways. The result, in this case, is that longstanding cultural narratives about hunger were used to defend dissimilar, and in some ways contradictory, political ends. Practically, the paper demonstrates how moralized calls to alleviate hunger are vulnerable to political manipulation and used to further conflicting political goals, yet may also offer opportunities to leverage support for bolstered state investments in food assistance during times of crisis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1437-1449
Number of pages13
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number4
Early online dateJul 5 2022
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Food Insecurity
  • Discourse analysis
  • Culture
  • Social media
  • Hunger

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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