About the Project

The Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP) began in August 2015 to document and examine food access and food insecurity in the state of Mississippi.

The USDA defines food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life (USDA-ERS). Food insecurity, then, is understood as a lack of access to enough food to be healthy and active (USDA-ERS). In 2014, 14 percent of Americans were food insecure (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh, 2015). Of those, 5.6 percent (or 6.9 million households) reported very low food security, which indicates reduced meals and disrupted eating patterns (Coleman-Jensen, et al, 2015).

Rates of food insecurity are highest among households with children (19.2%); households with children headed by single women (35.3%); households headed by Black, non-hispanics (26%); and Hispanics (22.4%) (Coleman-Jensen, et al, 2015). Food insecurity is greatest in the South (15.1%), and in non-metropolitan (rural) areas (15.7%) (Coleman-Jensen, et al, 2015).

What happens when people are food insecure? Research has demonstrated that food insecure populations have higher health care costs, greater likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, increased rates of mortality, higher blood pressure and many other health concerns (Hossfeld, Kelly, Smith Waity, 2015). Indeed food insecure households’ health care costs are almost 50% higher than those households that are considered food secure (Tarasuk et al 2015). Food insecurity is of particular importance to Mississippi, whose food insecurity rate is 22 percent, the highest in the nation, well above the US average of 14 percent (USDA-ERS 2014).

The Mississippi Food Insecurity Project provides current USDA-ERS food insecurity data for all 82 counties in Mississippi, along with related socio-economic variables, food assistance data, local food activities, food store availability, and health data. In addition, MFIP will provide research briefs, policy initiatives, and qualitative and quantitative research reports that document and examine food insecurity from the perspective of service providers and food insecure residents throughout the state.


Mississippi State University
Social Science Research Center
Mississippi Food Network
University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies
UMMC Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities
Southern Rural Development Center
Mississippi State University Food Security Network

Project Team

Dr. Leslie Hossfeld
Dr. Leslie Hossfeld is Director and Lead Principal Investigator of the Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP) and is Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at Mississippi State University. She is trained in Rural Sociology from North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dr. Hossfeld has extensive experience examining rural poverty and economic restructuring and has made two presentations to the United States Congress and one to the North Carolina Legislature on job loss and rural economic decline. Dr. Hossfeld has served as Co-Chair of the American Sociological Association Task Force on Public Sociology, Vice President of Sociologists for Women in Society, President of the Southern Sociological Society, and appointed to the USDA Rural Growth and Opportunity Board of Advisors. She co-founded and developed the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program Feast Down East (www.feastdowneast.org). Her current research examines food insecurity and food access in Mississippi.
Dr. Kecia Johnson
Dr. Kecia R. Johnson is Co-Principal Investigator of the Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP) and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Mississippi State University. Her research interests are in gender, race/ethnicity and criminology. She examines processes that perpetuate gender and racial inequality within a variety of social contexts. Dr. Johnson is interested in understanding the gendered and racialized dynamics of food insecurity and food access.
Dr. Kenya McKinley
Dr. Kenya Yonawa McKinley is Co-Principal Investigator for the Mississippi Food Insecurity Project (MFIP) and is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Mississippi State University. For 15 years, she has served a number of clients in the juvenile justice system and child protective services, and student services within university life. McKinley earned a doctorate degree in Adult Education from the University of Georgia in 2013. Her research centers on service provisions for marginalized and/or oppressed populations, and she is particularly committed to helping mobilize communities and at-risk populations for change. McKinley is committed to lifelong learning and continued professional development. Dr. McKinley is an active member in Council on Social Work Education, and was recently re-appointed to the Choctaw County Economic Development District Board of Directors. She also serves as the advisor for the student group, Association of Student Social Workers (A.S.S.W) at Mississippi State University.
Dr. Brittney Oliver
Dr. Brittney D. Oliver is an Assistant Professor of Health Promotion in the Department of Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion at Mississippi State University. She earned her doctorate at Middle Tennessee State University in Human Performance with a specialization in health promotion and health education. Dr. Oliver has research interests in health disparities experienced by racial and ethnic minority populations and, more specifically, the ways in which cultural factors influence health beliefs and behaviors. With respect to the role of cultural and socio-ecological approaches in health promotion, Dr. Oliver's current efforts pertain to the development, implementation, and translation of community-based and sustained interventions to address health disparities in diverse populations and settings.
Dr. Margaret Ralston
Dr. Margaret Ralston joined the faculty at Mississippi State University in 2014 after receiving her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her research focuses on understanding patterns of health and wellbeing in relation to social policies, community resources, and social relationships. Dr. Ralston’s past research has examined the intersection of health, the built environment, and social capital in the US context. Her current project explores concepts of health and social wellbeing in aging populations in the Global South. Dr. Ralston uses primarily secondary data sources and survey data in her research, which has been published in journals such as Research on Aging, Social Science & Medicine, and Population Research and Policy Review.
Office: 294 Bowen Hall
Claudette Jones
Claudette Jones is Research Associate at the Stennis Institute of Government and Community at Mississippi State University and provides technical assistance to Mississippi communities. Professional and personal interests include research and writing on food insecurity and economic/community development. Jones' career spans more than 33 years in media, public relations, and marketing, with a concentration in the built industry. She holds a BFA from Middle Tennessee State University, a MFA from the University of Cincinnati, a MPPA and GIS certification from Mississippi State University, and is writing her dissertation—New Millennium Motor Cities: Lessons Learned from the Rural Automobile Manufacturing Communities of Mississippi and Tennessee to complete her PhD in Urban and Regional Planning at Jackson State University.
Laura Kerr
Laura Jean Kerr is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Mississippi State University. She has worked in research for over seven years as a research analyst and associate. She earned her Bachelor’s from the University of Southern Mississippi and her Master’s from Mississippi State University. Her research interests are social inequality in policy and rural policy.
Maria Trinh
Maria Trinh is a graduate assistant and Sociology PhD candidate at Mississippi State University. She obtained her BA in Sociology and Psychology at Georgia Southwestern State University. Maria Trinh then received her MA in Sociology at Valdosta State University where she worked as a research assistant studying issues occurring in rural settings and participated in the National Hunger Study.
Frederick L. Hunter Jr. is a native of Chicago, IL, transplanted in Jackson, MS. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the historical Tougaloo College. He is currently finishing up the requirements for his Ph.D in Sociology (with a concentration in Gender Studies) from Mississippi State University. Frederick holds an M.S.W. (concentration in Mental Health) from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in Sociology (concentration in African and African Diaspora World Studies) from Western Illinois. His specialty areas are gender, race, and religion, and the juxtaposition of those ideological terrains to the South. He mostly examines the impact of racial inequality on food security within Jackson, MS metropolitan area.
John Buffington is an undergraduate student at Mississippi State University in his senior year studying Software Engineering. With over 9 years of experience creating websites and web applications, John has worked as a freelancer as well as with Mississippi State University's Social Science Research Center and Department of Sociology. He plans to graduate in December of 2016.