Exploring How Food Literacy Impacts West African Non-immigrant International Students in the U.S.: A Phenomenological Study

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in English


Department of English


Advisor: Rebecca Potter


Food is an important aspect of culture. The ability to independently purchase, manage, cook, and consume food as part of daily life is an essential skill. West African non-immigrant international students studying in the United States face challenges relating to food purchasing, preparation, and consumption. These challenges may materialize in the form of food availability, cost, and accessibility. An individual’s food choices affect their health and well-being, and as international students face obstacles in making food choices, healthy food choices must be made to promote not only their health but also their sense of well-being. In particular, the availability and accessibility of traditional foods from the international student’s culture have an impact on the dietary and nutritional choices of these non-immigrant students in the U.S. Food literacy centers on knowledge and skills required for understanding the nutrition and use of available foods, and acquiring knowledge and skills for making informed dietary choices. Cullen et al. (2015) define food literacy as the ability of an individual to understand food in a way that they develop a positive relationship with it, including food skills and practices across the lifespan in order to navigate, engage, and participate within a complex food system. The concept focuses on food knowledge, cooking skills, dietary practices, and the ability to make healthier food and nutritional choices. This study uses the concept of food literacy to better understand how levels of knowledge about available foods serve as a critical element in the dietary and nutritional choices of West African non-immigrant international students. Being “food illiterate” in their new culture influences their health, emotional well-being, and overall sense of comfort in their new surroundings. This study employs a mixed-methods approach, combining surveys, a Grounded Theory approach, interviews, and a Photovoice research methodology to gather data. The study focuses on a group of West African international students studying in the U.S., amplifying their voices and experiences on the impact of food literacy, as an underrepresented demographic in academic research. The findings from this study reveal that food literacy plays a crucial role in the lives of this sample of West African non-immigrant international students. The findings also highlight the need for targeted food literacy initiatives at colleges and universities to enhance food literacy within international student communities, ultimately contributing to their overall health and well-being. The research points to recommended food literacy initiatives tailored to the needs of non-immigrant students in the U.S. to be promoted in colleges and universities to impact their ability to make informed dietary and nutritional choices.


Impact of Food Literacy, West African Non-immigrant Students, International Students, Phenomenological Study

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