At A Glance

While most of our food is grown in rural communities, the people in these areas experience a disproportionate level of food insecurity. This reality brings additional challenges in employment, education and health as rural communities face additional burdens in terms of transportation, social isolation and access to many key social determinants of health. In understanding the importance that hunger and nutrition play in human health, rural sociologist Leslie Hossfeld has dedicated her career to facilitating change and creating access to one of the world’s most basic needs: food. To do so, she has done extensive research and built programming focused on community and economic development, agrarianism, food environment and food and nutrition security across educational, nonprofit and government entities.


As dean of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, Hossfeld leads a team of faculty and staff to build people and communities, a mission evident throughout her career.  

Health and nutrition are critical to society and all individuals.Through her research on food insecurity and rural economic development, Hossfeld has learned that communities come together in remarkable ways across sectors and social backgrounds. Her research has led to identifying essential skills and understandings of how to work in and with communities to address food insecurity and the power of research in documenting and informing community change. The study and corresponding solutions show communities working toward improving health and nutrition and reviving local food systems.

Most recently, Hossfeld has focused on healthy food access and community recovery across South Carolina. This focus builds upon her past experiences assembling scholarly community engagement projects around food security in rural Mississippi as well as work across the South to address persistent problems around healthy food access and provide actionable solutions for communities.

Extending her mission further, Hossfeld works to advance South Carolina throughout all seven schools and departments within her college — communication; nursing; parks, recreation and tourism management; political science; psychology; public health sciences; and sociology, anthropology and criminal justice. These areas work together to comprise the Building Healthy Communities programming, which seeks to address the critical needs of the state through research, teaching and service.

Previously, Hossfeld served as founding director of the Mississippi Food Insecurity Project, examining and documenting food insecurity and food access, and as associate director of food systems/food security/food access and economic development for the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, a partnership between the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Mississippi State University.

Hossfeld currently serves on a USDA project to strengthen food needs and priorities in 13 Southern states. She is no stranger to national government organizations, as her past research on rural economic restructuring and gender and job loss has been shared widely, including being presented to the Congressional Rural Caucus of the U.S. Congress in 2004 and 2009, respectively.

Dean Hossfeld has made more than 150 research presentations at national and international conferences and written over 70 peer-reviewed books, book chapters, technical reports, white papers, research briefs and journal articles. 

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When we think about poverty and hunger in developing nations, we think immediately about children who are thin and underweight; we call this malnutrition. Increasingly, in the U.S., malnutrition is not an issue of being underweight but comes from a lack of healthy food that leads to obesity. Accessing healthy, affordable food should not be a challenge, yet it is one of the greatest struggles Americans face.

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    • Food insecurity
    • Food environment
    • Rural food and nutrition security
    • Rural sociology
    • Rural economic development

    Degrees, Institutions

    • Ph.D. sociology, North Carolina State University
    • M.S. sociology, University of Mississippi
    • B.A. history, University of North Carolina Wilmington