Introduction to Food Insecurity

This post comes from a place of compassion. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that my #1 purpose in life is to help others get healthy. When I learned about the problem of food insecurity in my own country, I knew that I needed to get more involved. Read this post to understand the basic problem of food insecurity, and feel free to provide me with more information if you have it.

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity is defined by a lack of access to adequate food, limited by a lack of money and other resources. Food insecurity is a state of being, but there is a spectrum that exists which relates the extent to which an individual or household feels food insecurity. In 2018, an estimated 37 million Americans experienced food insecurity, including 11 million children. This is 1 in every 9 people! Unfortunately, the pandemic has made the problem of food insecurity worse, affecting up to 38% of people.

Check out the figure below to see the spectrum of food insecurity.

Figure. Spectrum illustrating the different levels of food insecurity. I found the information here, but the image is adapted from the USDA Economic Research Service.

How I learned about food insecurity

Food insecurity is often talked about in a public health setting. I am getting my doctorate degree in chemistry, so what the heck am I doing researching this topic? Ever since my sophomore year in college, I’ve been big into “health.” However, it’s often confusing from social media, the internet, magazine covers, etc. for an individual to define what health means to them.

It wasn’t until I decided to look into research on the obesity epidemic here in America that I learned about public health crises such as obesity, food deserts, and food insecurity. Later that year, I decided to start my own fitness brand, which grew into my health-focused brand that you know today.

With the goal of helping others reach their full potential through health and nutrition, I opted to get certified in nutrition. The certification process (through the National Academy of Sports Medicine) also helped me learn that health is dependent on many different factors and not just the will-power to lose weight or eat better.

The Complexity of the Problem

If you’re reading this, chances are that you care deeply about being healthy and eating healthy foods. How easy is it for you to hop in your car and drive to the nearest grocery store to pick up some fresh vegetables, meat, and/or perishable items?

Unfortunately, right here in America, a first-world country, in almost every single community, some form of food insecurity exists. There are people living with hunger on some level because they don’t have the food or resources to get healthy food, or food at all.

This is absolutely heart-breaking to me. I know how hard I have to work to achieve a healthy lifestyle, but many people don’t even have that option.

Accessing healthy food is particularly challenging for families living in low-income neighborhoods, families of color, and those living in rural areas.

Have you ever been on a road trip and driven through a particularly rural part of your state or county, wondering how people lived there? There wasn’t much there, was there? Maybe a corner store that wasn’t even fit for a bathroom break. There are people that live in these areas that are 20+ miles from the nearest grocery store.

How difficult would it be then for you to go get some food… healthy food, for that matter? Not as easy as just hitting the grocery store really quickly on your way home from work…

It would be much easier to hit up the convenience store for a quick snack to satisfy your hunger. Trying to eat a nutritious meal at a convenience store is nearly impossible. There are tons of high-calorie, nutrient-poor items and hardly any fresh options.

So why don’t the people just move away or build a closer grocery store?

It’s not that simple. To put it briefly, especially because I am not yet fully educated on the topic, it is a complex interplay between social and political issues. You’ll see fancy grocery stores go up in affluent neighborhoods because they have the funds to support the business. On the other hand, the families who are able to move away will do so, leaving the poorest families behind. This further contributes to the problems. This isn’t just in rural America, but within large cities that have underserved areas (Chicago, Detroit, Miami, to name a few), the problem is just as pervasive.

Actually having access to healthy food is associated with better eating habits and a lowered risk of developing diseases such as obesity or other diet-related diseases. At the end of this blog, I provide a reference to a review of the research that discusses how these two topics are closely related. There is a highly complex relationship between obesity and food insecurity that I am continuing to study and read up on. I have a lot of learning to do!

Why am I so passionate about this?

Clearly I am not an expert on this topic yet, so why do I care so much? Like I mentioned, I have developed a passion for helping others get healthy over the years. While I am a nutrition coach for individuals, caring about population health goes hand in hand with my core values. I think it would be naive and selfish of me to only care about individual’s health without caring about the health of my community.

I can’t image what it is like to have to struggle just to go to bed with a little bit of food in my stomach.

What I’m doing about it

If you have been following my journey on social media, you probably are familiar with my career goals: working with non-profits and other organizations to bring food to underserved populations. However, I’m not there yet. I’m still finishing my PhD in a totally unrelated field. It’s difficult for me to acquire the resources and networks to find people in the field who are willing to work with me. I emailed several departments and foundations with little response. I regularly donate to my local food bank, but this wasn’t enough.

I decided that I was done waiting on others to email me back, so I recently held a fundraiser on my own. Thankfully, it was so easy to do! Through Facebook, I was able to hold a fundraiser for Feeding America, which is a nationwide network of food banks fighting to end hunger in America. Together, we were able to donate a total of 8,350 meals!!!

Because of how successful the fundraiser was, I will definitely be doing this annually, so if you weren’t able to get involved this time, there will be a “next time!” 😀

A lot of people were praising my efforts or just me as an individual, but I don’t particularly take credit for any of this. It’s not me. It’s US, as a collective group! I want to thank everyone who participated and donated. Without you, this would not have been possible. Again, it’s not me!

Finally, I would like to make the point that this is just the beginning… next year, I am hoping for a larger donation, more involvement, and to raise more awareness. The more I learn about food insecurity, the more compassionate I become. It’s extremely fulfilling to give a small portion of your earnings away to tremendously help others in need.

References and Further Reading

  1. Understanding the Connections: Food Insecurity and Obesity. Food Research and Action Center
  2. Household Food Insecurity in the United States in 2018. A report summary from the Economic Research Service, September 2019
  3. https://map.feedingamerica.org/
  4. https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/
  5. OBESITY: OVERVIEW OF AN EPIDEMIC. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2011.08.005
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/05/26/number-of-food-insecure-households-more-than-doubles-as-food-banks-struggle/

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