PART THREE: FOOD INSECURITY – WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
How can we improve access to healthier and nutritious foods? How can we help feed the under-served?
Picking up where we left off
Access to safe and nutritious food is a basic human right. Low-income neighborhoods, both urban and rural, can have limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Fewer -or no- supermarkets, a higher proportion of small corner grocery and convenience stores, and high density of fast food restaurants are found in low-income neighborhoods. These are predominantly black neighborhoods compared to high-income and predominantly white neighborhoods. People of color are more vulnerable to food insecurity, especially women and children. The US has 41 million people, 12.9 million children, who are food insecure. Food insecurity leads to:
- Health problems (diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, disease),
- Education problems (hungry kids have difficulty learning)
- Financial problems (employment & earning difficulty, increasing overall health care costs)
- Mental health problems (cognitive development, depression, stigmatization, stress, anxiety, hyperactivity/inattention)
- Crime (burglary in particular).
Food plays a crucial part in the health and development of our selves, our economy, and our culture. It’s critical in creating and sustaining resilient communities. Inadequacies in global, national, regional and local food systems have shown the connection between healthy food and healthy communities. It’s important to also consider other factors like: personal eating habits and willingness to try new foods, available resources including personal time, ability and access to kitchen space and equipment. When you take all of this into consideration it paints a much more complex picture of food disparities and challenges the belief that being close to a grocery store solves the problem of food disparity and the health of individuals and communities. This is not an easy problem to solve.
Planning for Food Access & Community Based System
Food Banks need support in ways that are socially ad culturally responsible. They are often stressed beyond capacity. Food Banks are more holistic in approach than just handing out food. They work with communities to address all contributors to poverty and hunger justice and provide social and community services in addition to food.
- Food banks can reclaim edible food from Supermarkets.
- Donate healthy, nutritious foods and/or funds to Food Banks. Donating directly means more funds are immediately available and not diluted with administrative fees.
- Volunteer as an individual or group. Groups are welcome in most Food Banks to help with repackaging bulk foods into family sized portions. Buying dry goods in bulk quantities stretches already tight purchasing budgets.
- Post nutrition tips near processed foods.
- Offer nutrition and cooking classes.
- Encourage all community gardens in the city to “Grow a Row for the Hungry” and donate the fresh product to food banks.
Food access is not just a health issue but also a community development and equity issue. Policy decisions need to take into consideration how food is produced, processed, distributed, sold and how the build environment supports these processes. Food access disparities should be viewed as a planning problem with health, cultural, and equity implications.
- Incorporate farming and food into economic development policies and fund programs; the food system accounts for 10 to 30% of all economic activities within a region.
- Strengthen antitrust laws in agribusiness and other food businesses to ensure a competitive and fair marketplace with diverse consumer choices.
- Support the creation of food infrastructure and food-related green jobs in production, processing, storage, distribution and waste management.
- Advocate for food issues at regional, state, and national levels.
- Promote edible landscaping.
- Develop programs and solutions that enable farmers to protect natural resources.
- Create and implement a program to reduce the barriers of entry for new food entrepreneurs and new minority farmers. For example: training programs, micro-loans and low-interest loans.
- Establish a farm health connection program bringing together health providers for migrant and seasonal farm workers.
- Create incentives to support local food production and processing to improve food security, and create a healthy and local food supply.
- Develop a food-related incubator to help develop local food businesses and a central food hub that provides space for the assembly, storage, and distribution of food from local farms and the processing and development of local food products.
- Work with local community leaders and officials to adapt regulations and zoning so that food can be produced, stored, and distributed from under-served communities
- Work with farmers, ranchers and other nearby communities to create a system of direct purchasing.
- Encourage city regulations to allow farmers’ markets, community and school gardens and year-round food production and distribution.
- Encourage grocery stores, healthy corner stores and outdoor markets at key public transit locations.
- When developing land use plans, connect transportation services with food access.
- Make sure that community farmers’ markets have secure, long-term space and give priority to establishing new farmers’ markets in communities that don’t already have one and have limited access to fresh produce.
- Provide incentives to already existing stores to carry a percentage of fresh, healthy food. For example, fund adding refrigeration upgrades and subsidize healthy foods.
- Provide incentives to attract and retain high quality grocery stores, healthy corner stores and outdoor markets to build in under-served communities.
- Develop a targeted marketing campaign to encourage healthy eating.
- Support street vending of healthy foods.
- Organize regional food celebrations and community events to enjoy and learn about regional foods.
- Improve the food environment around schools and recreation centers. Control the density of fast food restaurants and food retailers that promote low-nutrient-dense foods.
- Create healthy food zoning requirements or incentives.
- Increase the number of low-income CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to increase fresh food access in low-income areas while at the same time compensating farmers fairly for their products.
- Develop food programs for Community Centers. Their clients can’t make progress without proper nutrition.
- Support urban agriculture.
- Develop and provide nutrition and food information, training and technical assistance to schools and community organizations. This has to go hand in hand with getting fresh foods into neighborhood stores. Imagine a child studying health and nutrition in school but going into their local stores and not finding the nutrient-rich foods they just learned about. It becomes one more source of anger and frustration to them.
- Integrate Farm to School programs, gardening, nutrition, and food systems into school curricula.
- Encourage neighborhoods, religious and social groups, and other organizations to share excess garden produce during growing season.
- Expand and develop composting programs and ensure access to affordable sources of compost for home, school, community gardens.
- Start or expand gleaning programs that harvest local food from farmers and help feed the food insecure.
Living Wage Jobs
- Allowing for inflation, the minimum wage is currently 32% lower than in 1968.
- 75% of food insecure households have someone in the household working – 60% have at least one full time worker
- One of the largest demographics of food insecure families are active duty military.
A Holistic View – Consider the Whole Person
Much research has been done into how child experiences affect obesity and health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Profound discoveries have been made as to how ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are twice as likely to result in overweight of obesity and have 32.6 times likelihood to lead to learning and behavioral problems. Trauma and food insecurity go hand in hand with health, mental health, public health, community health, education, and livelihood. Having access to healthy food, healthcare, mental healthcare…….
Wrapping It Up…
This is in no way, shape, or form all inclusive of what can and is being done. It’s a start and meant to inspire thought. We must raise awareness, pay attention, and be sensitive to this issue. Communities can and should be EMPOWERED to explore SOLUTIONS and TAKE ACTION. Those communities in turn can INSPIRE and TEACH other communities to make changes. Many cities have initiatives and plans in place. Find out what is happening in your community. Most people would be very surprised at who in their community is food insecure. Most importantly we need to make sure children get nutritious food so they can grow and thrive and reach their potential. Regardless of why they are without healthy meals, they are the ones that suffer the most.
Thank you for reading along on this series. It’s a bit off course from the direction of my vision of Fresh Look Foods but feeding people good, healthy food is my ultimate Mission. I’d love to hear your comments and stories of your experience with food insecurity, deserts, or swamps and what’s happening in your community to address these issues.
In Health & Happiness!