Hunger and Food Insecurity in America
Food Security is defined as “having access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” by the World Health Organization. The main difference between food security and hunger is the nutrition piece. Food can provide sustenance without necessarily being nutritious (this versus this), possibly leading to long term nutrient deficiencies but calorie surpluses.
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s report (summary of findings here), one in seven households in the US were classified as food insecure in 2008. Fifteen percent of American households either going hungry or sacrificing nutritious foods for calorie dense, nutrient poor ones to fill their bellies is certainly cause for concern.
I empathize. Last year, I made the move from Georgia to New York immediately after graduation, without a job lined up for my arrival or much in the way of savings. During the first few weeks of my three month unemployment, I found myself snacking on whatever I could get my hands on – free or insanely cheap, and admittedly sometimes not the most healthful food (I know what you’re thinking. Don’t judge me. I don’t come to your blog and judge you, do I?). Recognizing the irony of searching for a job as a nutritionist and engaging in such hypocrisy, I got smart.
I cooked all my meals at home and froze the leftovers in individual portioned containers. I didn’t waste anything. I started buying low sodium canned vegetables, soups, and beans, and frozen fruit. I discovered dried beans, and online coupons (I actually became very excited about online coupons). I ate oatmeal for breakfast instead of the expensive cereals I was used to. I switched to the generic store brand of everything. I bought large bags of brown rice and made a lot of my dinners based around that. I drank nothing but water and the occasional green tea.
I realize that many Americans who have lost their jobs or are food insecure for a different reason have not only themselves, but also their children to care for. Sometimes even doing everything you can to prevent waste and save money at the store doesn’t go far enough. There is a ton of support available to people who find themselves in this incredibly tough situation.
First of all, locate a community food bank close to you. I’ve volunteered with many of these and most give out weekly grocery bags with staples that keep well. They try and include food from all the food groups, and from my experience they do a very good job. Also, those who financially qualify can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or the food assistance program formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) or the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program if you are pregnant or have a child under the age of 5.
To end on a happier note, or at least a silver lining, President Obama has proposed increasing spending on food assistance programs such as the ones listed above for the 2010 budget (see page 45 if interested).
Photo by MikeSchinkel
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