Overview: What is Food Insecurity?
Eating is an enormous part of people’s lives. Whether it’s breakfast, dinner, or just a snack, we need food to nourish our bodies and stay healthy. Many people are fortunate to not have to worry about filling a grumbling stomach, or eating another meal. However today, millions of people go to bed hungry, unable to afford and provide food for themselves and their families. Food insecurity, or “the state of unreliable access to healthy food” has been a prevalent issue in America’s underprivileged communities for over a hundred years (USDA).
Studies have revealed how closely related food insecurity and wealth disparities are, noting that “…hunger and nutritional deprivation are directly associated with poverty” (J. Brown). Lack of nutrition and a stable diet directly correlates to negative health outcomes. Especially for children, the long term impacts of food insecurity are severe, leading to, “…impaired physical, mental, and social development”, along with “overall health deficits” (O’Hara & Toussaint). Times of crises including economic recessions, natural disasters, and the current global pandemic have only exposed the severity of this issue.
To read my full personal interest essay, click here.
The History of Food Insecurity in America
Food insecurity has only evolved over time, disproportionately impacting communities of lower socioeconomic status. Beginning during the Great Depression in the 1920s, disaster struck in America’s communities. Unemployment rates were higher than ever, industry slowed, and the economy was suffering. Breadlines and soup pantry lines wrapped around blocks, and over 60 percent of households were classified as “impoverished” (Depths of the Great Depression). As low income families were already struggling to survive in the US, the economic depression of the 1970s only further exacerbated food insecurity and income vulnerability. In 1974, Over 185 countries attended the World Food Conference where the term “food insecurity” was formally introduced and these countries announced, “the people’s inalienable right to freedom from hunger” (Allen). Food assistance programs were implemented and provided for over 20 million Americans, organizations raised money, and Congress allocated grants to community food projects (Allen). However, these federal programs were less than adequate, and many Americans complained that “The American Safety Net” was “weak” in comparison to other nations (J. Brown).
Improvements in hunger rates were seen during the decades following this period, until yet another nationwide crisis hit in 2008 – the Great Recession. The economy reached an extremely low point, millions of jobs were lost, and the U.S. saw a 35% increase in hunger (Gundersen). Since the end of the Great Recession, “Food insecurity rates have remained essentially unchanged despite improvements in the economy” (Balistreri).
Continue reading my full paper on the history of food insecurity here.
The Food Insecurity Crisis Now
While food insecurity has been an ongoing injustice in America, the current Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated hunger and its impact on underprivileged communities. From 2013 to 2018, before the pandemic hit, U.S. food insecurity rates remained at a steady 11%-12%. Now, just a few years later, millions of Americans are unemployed and this rate has tripled, currently at a record high of 38% (Wolfson & Leung). As many people have lost their only sources of income due to the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult to access fresh and affordable foods.
To read my full paper on food insecurity during the pandemic, click here.
Macro Level Solutions: What Are Possible Larger Scale Action Steps?
- Continue to expand current federal assistance plans and programs including SNAP, WIC, and NSLP, which have already created positive outcomes.
- Conduct local surveys to allow districts to understand the extent of food insecurity in each area and how to proceed in addressing the issue with new data.
- USDA/U.S. government should both subsidize the cost of healthy food so it becomes more accessible, and incentivize farmers and produce manufacturers in some way to save excess food and decrease food waste.
- Partner with farmers and produce manufacturers to pick up excess produce and distribute it to organizations or directly to families to avoid further food waste.
Micro Level Solutions: How Can I Personally Make an Impact?
- Create local, collaborative community gardens and distribute the produce to local food banks or directly to families, allowing for easier access to fresh foods.
- Organize fundraisers and food drives and donate the funds/produce collected.
- Inform and educate others on ways to advocate for food security. Send short emails or postcards with organization links and local volunteer opportunities to encourage people to get involved in their communities.
- Volunteer at related local and national organizations. A few in the Bay Area include Food Runners, Share our Strength, and the Alameda County Food Bank.
Aside from the many local organizations, Feeding America is one of the nation’s largest non-profit working to alleviate hunger and food insecurity. Feeding America has a network of over 200 food banks across the country, in total providing millions of meals for Americans every year.
Covid-19 has made volunteering extremely difficult, yet Feeding America has continued their work through the pandemic. The following actions recommended by Feeding America are great ways to get involved:
- Sorting and packing: assemble boxes of food for distribution
- Help out at mobile pantries, drive-thru pantries, and no-contact distributions
- Deliver meals: You can help make sure our most vulnerable neighbors have the food they need while staying safe.
- Volunteer from home. Some food banks have moved their volunteer shifts online and are asking volunteers to help fundraise or spread awareness.
Click here for more information on Feeding America.
My works cited can be found here.
Thank you for reading through my page! I would love to hear your thoughts on how else to get involved in our communities. Feel free to leave any other constructive feedback in the comment section.