Food: A common denominator between us all. Food is not just about calories and macros, or all of the categories we put ourselves in like veganism, ketotarian, or pescatarian. Beyond this, it is also about feeling connected to community and having a sense of belonging. Across cultures, food is a way to break bread and share our humanity.
When you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, food, water, shelter and rest are the foundations of health. Without these fundamental pieces in place, it’s difficult to think about safety, community, or our future. Food security is a foundational human need. Without it, we cannot thrive, let alone survive.
It is truly a privilege to live in an area where you have access to a high quality grocery retailer like a Trader Joes or Whole Foods Market with aisles for vegan shoppers, eco-friendly household products, juice bars, and a bakery with freshly baked breads. Unfortunately, this is not a privilege that we all have in America.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers access to safe and adequate food a basic individual right. Nevertheless, over 37 million Americans report being food insecure. If you have one or more well-stocked groceries within walking (or driving) distance, and have the financial fluidity to purchase the kinds of foods that you want (i.e. organic, local, conventional, in-season), whenever you want, you experience a high level of food access and security.
The concept of food security is defined by the WHO as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs and their food preferences. Food security is determined by four factors:
Availability: “Does food exist near me?”
Access: “Can I get to food easily?”
Utilization: “Will this food contribute to my health and well-being?”
Stability: “Will food be available tomorrow, next week, and next month?”
Some people and places face greater barriers with accessing healthy and affordable food market retailers which negatively affect their diet, well being, and food security. Food insecurity can be attributed to a number of factors including, location, health, age, affordable housing and a lack of available public transportation. Some of the most critical risk factors are poverty, rent burden, and unemployment levels.
Communities that are prone to food insecurity lack easy access to grocery stores within walking distance. These areas are referred to as a food desert. These typically occur within low-income neighborhoods where a substantial number of residents do not have access to a nearby supermarket or a large grocery store to purchase nutritious food.
Although food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people that live below the poverty line experience food insecurity and it is possible for those who are living above the poverty line to also experience it. Food insecurity can create a range of short and long term impacts, especially for children. One of the many effects of food insecurity is a lack of dietary choices. One may have to consume whatever is easiest to access and prepare, or whatever is cheapest. This can cause a plethora of health issues that can persist into adulthood.
Food security is a deep, complex problem. As food security is a baseline human need, how are we producing enough food to feed the world’s entire population, yet millions are still undernourished and in conflict with food security in America?