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Food assistance in Portugal: organizational challenges in three different contexts

Fábio Rafael Augusto (Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 3 May 2021

Issue publication date: 14 December 2021




Drawing on an ethnographic research study, developed in three different food assistance initiatives (FAIs) operating in Portugal, this article seeks to explore the elements that characterize them and the main organizational challenges they face.


Participant observation was carried out in a surplus food redistribution charity, a soup kitchen and a social supermarket, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with supervisors of these FAIs. The study followed an inductive coding strategy, and a thematic analysis was developed.


The main results point to an appreciation of the initiatives and the role they play, but they also highlight the existence of several challenges, mainly related to: 1) difficulties in accessing sources of funding, 2) the absence of an intervening state and 3) a scarcity of resources that allow a thorough assessment of their activities and services provided, which weakens the public image of these responses.


The development of food assistance in Europe has a long history. Over the past few years, this sector has grown significantly. Nowadays, it is possible to identify several realities around emergency food provision. However, this heterogeneity has not been sufficiently explored in the literature. In addition, there are few studies that report on the variety of initiatives that coexist in Portugal and establish a comparison between them. The current paper intends to overcome this gap by seeking to understand the main models of food assistance operating in the country.



The PhD project leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC grant agreement n° 337977 and from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) through the Human Capital Operational Programme (POCH) supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) and national funds of the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES) with the reference SFRH/BD/130072/2017.


Augusto, F.R. (2021), "Food assistance in Portugal: organizational challenges in three different contexts", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 244-257.



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