We had our choice between toasted balloon-bread and instant ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My best friend lived in a suburban house like me and earned equally good grades in the classes we shared. But whenever I spent the night at her house, there was little food to be found. There were two major differences between us- she much larger and she was always much hungrier.
I am interested in nutrition and growing food, but I wanted to learn more about why some populations are so far removed from healthy food options. Neighborhoods of low-income, in urban and rural areas, and of certain ethnic groups have significantly higher obesity rates, food insecurity, and lack of access to healthy food. Food insecurity is defined as being unable to reliably access affordable, nutritious food at a necessary quantity. Food security is a basic human right because food is a basic need of life, like water and air. Why are so many people in the United States being denied this right by their geographical and socioeconomic situations? I have been researching this enigma for the past several weeks. What are the factors that increase food insecurity, and what populations are most vulnerable?
I also searched for various solutions that are currently in place, or have been suggested with substantial supporting evidence for success. I have been volunteering in the Learning Garden at Portland Community College and have been interviewing various students and staff on their ideas for the most effective solutions to getting healthy food to all populations in the U.S. Through this process I have learned that there are a multitude of factors that come in to play wherever food is concerned. You cannot tell who is going to bed hungry just by looking at them. There are many trade-offs that families have to make when choosing what food to buy- it is not so simple as educating people on making healthier food decisions. Low-income individuals are often more time-constrained and price-sensitive. I hope that you as the reader will see the complexities of this issue, as well as the abundance of possible solutions that are waiting to be implemented to feed our nation food instead of stuffing us with calories.
Get Informed: Resources to Read
- Dimitri, Caryolyn and Stephanie Rogus. “Food Choices, Food Security, and Food Policy.” Journal of International Affairs2 (2014): 19-31. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
The article examines the focus of current food policies are argues that behavioral factors that influence what and how much we eat are missing. Dimitri has a PhD and is an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Nutrition. Rogus has an MA and an RD and is a PhD student at the Department of Nutrition at New York University. This source argues that education on healthy food choices is not enough to increase food security in our country. A range of behavioral factors are at play in a food shopper and consumer’s mind and habits. The income disparity of food security cannot be solely solved by increased community gardens and education on nutritious shopping and cooking habits.
- McMillan, Trade. “The New Face of Hunger.” National Geographic2 (2014): 66. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
This article examines the relationship between increasing prices of healthy food (fruits and vegetables) as relative wage rates in our economy have declined. People of low-income choose foods that are calorie-dense, inexpensive and convenient. Food security policies need to focus more on providing know-how and time budgeting to teach people how to eat well at a low price in the U.S. McMillan is the author of the book titled The American Way of Eating. The article shows how government food programs like SNAP alone do not provide a sound solution for food insecurity. It shows how low-income families are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to accessibility to healthy foods. Even food pantries and soup kitchens are filled with mainly processed foods that have a long shelf life and are calorie-dense but provide limited nutrients.
- Suddath, Claire. “Why Are Southerners So Fat?” Time, Inc., 9 July, 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Mississippi has the highest obesity rate among the Unites States and it has the highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line. The link between low-income, food insecurity and obesity are evident in the article, but it shows that limited monetary resources are not the only factor at play in the disparity. Suddath is TIME’s music and culture writer, and she graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Culture is an important factor in food choices that lead to the health of a population. The article shows how low-income families and rural and urban neighborhoods have limited access to purchase healthy foods. But culture is another factor shown to examine why certain ethnicities (primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods) show significantly higher rates of food insecurity and obesity.
How to Get Involved
If you are interested in learning more and getting involved, there are numerous ways to spread the abundance of food in our nation.
There are many groups and non-profits you can support. Urban Gleaners has multiple programs that serve to collect and redistribute edible surplus food from farms and food stores. They are looking for volunteers to “glean” grocery stores and restaurants of their day-old food and transport the surplus food to their sorting and distribution warehouses. You can click this link to learn more about their programs with schools and emergency food relief agencies: http://urbangleaners.org/about-us.
There are articles, studies and personal stories published online and in periodicals such as The Oregonian, which also lists food drives in local areas. You can easily create your own food drive with the support from Oregon Food Bank or Sunshine Pantry by going on their website and contacting staff. On the Oregon Food Bank’s website (http://oregonfoodbank.org/Organize-a-Food-Drive/Most-Wanted-Foods?c=1307042241988 06312) they list the foods most needed at food drives and donations. On the top of the list are shelf-stable milk, canned meats and tuna high in protein, canned vegetables and fruits high in nutrients- preferably low sodium and low sugar- and whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
You can educate others on the health benefits of donating healthy food instead of instant ramen and mac-n-cheese for two reasons. First, those are not the foods that food drives and donation/ distribution centers need most. And second, you can truly make an impact in someone’s life by giving them healthy, nutrient-dense food that will help them thrive and grow, instead of calorie and salt-dense foods that will fill them up only for a short while.
Sunshine Pantry, Oregon Food Bank, and Loaves and Fishes are all agencies that distribute food to those of low-income and with disabilities and would be more than happy to receive your donations. Most places are open Monday through Friday and accept drop-off donations at their door. You can find more information about Sunshine Pantry in Beaverton at this link: http://www.sunshinepantry.org/.