Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Bob Sharpe

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


This study investigates the relational layers of meanings that people experience at places in their food environment, and how individuals express a sense of place through their collective interactions with, and understandings of, food places. It also explores the patterns of difference among these meanings of place and sense of place in terms of their potential association with dietary quality. The context of this inquiry was two-fold: first, the need identified by several population health researchers and to re-imagine place as relational and include it in the study of behavioural responses to the changing food environment; and secondly, my interest in examining how existing theories of place and sense of place can help explicate people-place-food interactions, a hitherto untested application. Methodologically, this study follows a mixed-methods approach, and is based on semi-structured interviews with a diverse sample of inner-city residents of Waterloo, Ontario. To focus on individuals’ interactions with their food environment, attention is centred on the set of places that they choose to visit routinely to buy food or eat out: a hypothetical construct termed their “personal food environment” (PFE). The mapping of the PFE at each interview became an elicitation tool to verbally draw out the subjective, social and spatial meanings embedded in each place. Analysis with grounded theory also revealed the roles that food plays in shaping facets of personal sense of place, including feelings of belonging or alienation, active involvement and impulsiveness, and, for some people, a sense of connectedness on a global and/or local scale. A subset of these meanings of place and places was reflected in dietary behaviour, as measured by the Canadian Healthy Eating Index, and suggested four place-diet links. The interconnected conceptual and empirical qualities of place and food that emerged from this study are summarized in a conceptual framework. They represent parameters of the PFE that could be tested, defined and validated for use in future research. The findings of this dissertation suggest the need for similar studies with different demographic and geographic groups, and will consequently be of interest to theorists of place and health as well as to planners, food advocates and health professionals to inform programs and policy.

Convocation Year