8 Ways to Fight Food Insecurity

Aguilar, Ana. 2021.  jpg file.

Written by Ariana Lipsman | Edited By: Carol Coutinho

March 10, 2021

The U.S. is thought of as the land of plenty, and in the literal sense, it is. It produces 4,000 calories’ worth of food per person per day and 195 pounds of meat per person available for consumption, so there’s certainly plenty of food to go around. On a larger scale, the entire planet produces 1.5 times the amount of food needed to feed all people everywhere, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Yet, as recently as 2013, over 842 million people (one eighth of the world population) were evaluated to be suffering from food insecurity and chronic hunger, meaning that they hadn’t been getting enough food to live an active life. In the U.S., 50 million people experience this, and since COVID-19, that number has skyrocketed. Some are now experiencing food insecurity for the first time. So, if there’s plenty of food, how do so many people go hungry?

To answer this question, we first have to understand what food insecurity means. Defined by the USDA, food insecurity is an economic and social condition experienced by a household that has  limited or inconsistent access to enough food for everyone within it. This global phenomenon can be caused by a number of reasons.

Aguilar, Ana. 2021. jpg file.

Causes of Food Insecurity

Poverty:

The number one cause of food insecurity is poverty. First world and third world countries alike contain communities experiencing poverty, in both urban and rural areas. The majority of people experiencing food insecurity earn an income of $1.90 a day or less, which is the official definition of extreme poverty. Most of the people who fall within this category are small farmers from developing countries. Since they have small amounts of land, they can’t grow enough to either feed their families or turn enough of a profit to buy food from other places.

Quality of Nutrition:

Malnourishment, a result of food insecurity, is caused by a lack of protein, which leads to weight loss. A more subtle form of malnourishment is called “hidden hunger”, which has  to do with the quality of the food, rather than the quantity. Human beings require certain levels of nutrients in order to thrive, and when these levels aren’t met, it can make you sick, and if it goes on too long, it can cause death. For instance, you couldn’t survive on a diet of rice alone. Those most vulnerable to malnourishment are infants and small children. Hidden hunger has stunted the growth of 1 in 4 children from developing countries.

Inadequate Infrastructure:

Infrastructure is the basic organizational and physical constructions and operations that are needed for a society to be functional. Examples of this are roads, telecommunications, bridges, sewers, and electrical grids. Without these structures, people can’t move from one place to another, have proper plumbing, or communicate with others in different parts of the area. 

Without roads and transportation, it’s very difficult to get food to parts of a country that need it. For instance, people could be starving in one part of a country and in another, there is plenty to eat, simply because there was no way to get the food to the area in need. The pandemic has revealed weaknesses in the food system infrastructure. For instance, the major U.S. meat companies only have a few factories in the country that process their animals for meat. When those factories were shut down due to COVID-19 cases, there was a significant meat shortage. 

Irrigation infrastructure, a system of getting water throughout a society, is crucial for producing crops, and without this, it makes it very difficult for farmers to produce food. This type of infrastructure is pricey, and many farmers in developing countries don’t have access to enough water to grow the food their communities need.

Job Instability: 

Poverty caused by unemployment, or jobs that don’t pay enough is a common cause of food insecurity in the U.S., a problem linked to a country’s economy. When it isn’t doing well, people are let go from their jobs, and new ones become hard to find. Even when the economy gets better, it’s still hard for certain groups to find employment, such as single parents. If a single parent can’t find any childcare options for while they are at work, it makes it nearly impossible for them to take a job, or work enough hours to make the money they need to support their family. Today in the U.S., 15% of American adults have reported job loss because of COVID-19.  

Food waste and shortages: 

These are common in developing countries. It hits small farmers the most, since they usually depend on their surplus crops to feed their families. The less they grow, the smaller the surplus. These farmers experience “hungry seasons”, which occur mostly during the period leading up to the harvest.  Food from the previous harvest starts to run out, so families  scale back on their meals in order to make what they have last. 

This happens in the U.S. with money. Low-income families run low on money towards the end of the month before the next paycheck, and scale back on meals to stretch their remaining funds. 

In some countries, small farmers have food storage facilities that can’t protect their harvest from pests and the weather. This causes up to 40% of food from some countries to be spoiled. During the pandemic, many farms have had to waste huge amounts of their crops because there is decreased demand from restaurants and cafeterias, which are closed. 

Climate Change: 

Climate change is increasingly affecting the availability, quality of, and access to food, a crucial reason it needs to be addressed now with major change. Changes in the atmosphere and changes in the weather affect the growth of crops, and increased natural disasters like floods make it harder for many people to access food.

War and Social Conflict: 

Food insecurity can both cause war and political upheaval, as well as be the result of them. When food insecurity becomes widespread in a country, it can cause anger and resentment towards governments who are seen as failing to address the problem. 

When war does erupt in a country, it is the poor who are hit the hardest by its effects. Often  their homes are wrecked and they are stripped of what little they own.. The country’s infrastructure may have been damaged as well, which makes it even harder for a family to get enough food.

Discrimination: 

Sadly, discrimination is present in many countries, and most definitely in the U.S. Persecuted groups are most disadvantaged and therefore the most vulnerable to food insecurity. These groups are usually divided along ethnic, racial, or religious lines. Across all of these groups, women and girls are more marginalized than men. Women earn less than men in every part of the economy, women farmers have less resources to grow crops with then their male counterparts, and it is girls who are pulled out of school to either go to work or marry.

Now that we know what causes food insecurity, what exactly is the difference between food insecurity and hunger? The difference is that hunger is experienced by an individual, not a household, and refers to the physical condition of being hungry- not having enough to eat. Food insecurity includes the social and economic aspects of why there isn’t enough to eat for a household. 

Right now, COVID has caused a huge amount of food insecurity because of widespread job loss. Many are struggling to get enough food for their families. However, there are many ways that we can help, and there are a lot of organizations out there that are making a big difference! Here are a few things you can do to help:

1.

Mutual Aid

Mutual aid is a community-based system in which members of a mutual aid network care for one another through exchanging resources and services. It’s a network that forms within a community in which people join up to respond to a common struggle. You can find a mutual aid network in your community with Mutual Aid Hub, or start your own!

2.

Support Feeding America

Feeding America“. 2020. jpg file.

This organization is dedicated to ending hunger, and has about 200 food banks all around the country. In the U.S., over 72 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year. Feeding America helps save some of it by working with food manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and farmers to gather it before it’s wasted and get it to families in need. Donate or volunteer to help!

3.

Write to lawmakers

Food insecurity occurs within a larger system, and can’t be solved on a community level alone. Food policy within the government can do a lot to help. Write or call your local representatives  to advocate for policies that create more access to food, such as increasing the minimum wage,  the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and funding food initiatives.

4.

Support Black-operated food justice organizations

“Black Urban Growers”. 2020. jpg file.

COVID has disproportionately affected the black community, and is one of the groups that experience food insecurity the most. There are many organizations that have formed to address this, like Black Urban Growers, Black Dirt Farm Collective, and Soil Generation.

5.

Encourage your local farms to contribute to food rescue programs

Food banks usually rely on food retailers and restaurants to donate food, but with so many of these businesses struggling and disappearing because of COVID-19 shutdowns, they aren’t as strong a resource as they once were. Instead, food banks  are relying more on farms for their donations, especially now that farms aren’t supplying as many restaurants or stores. This means many farms have extra produce that is going to waste. Contact your local farms and see if they would be willing to donate some of their produce to food banks.

6.

Start a food drive

You can start your own food drive in your community! Gather any extra food you may have and get the word out for others to do the same. You can gather a significant amount of food for your local food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens. Move for Hunger has a great guide to holding your own food drive.

7.

Meal delivery to elders

Now more than ever, it is hard for the elderly to get to the grocery store. Because of this, there is a big need for meal delivery. There are many organizations that prepare and deliver nutritious meals to seniors that you can donate to or volunteer with.

8.

Start a community garden

If you have unused land, you can turn it into a tiny food-producing farm for your community! Neighbors can come and plant crops, which will produce healthy food for families in need.

Food insecurity is a big issue, and is even more so during this difficult time. By taking any of these actions, you can make a huge difference in the life of a food insecure family. There is plenty of food out there for everyone, and with these eight solutions, we can make sure it gets to those who need it most.

Find out more about the food and agricultural systems that affect what and how we eat in our Food Sustainbility section.

Related Articles

Written by Ariana Lipsman