There is a nameless, faceless epidemic in our country. It’s called hunger. According to Feeding America, 16.6% of Americans are food insecure. That’s more than 50 million Americans. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that number. But it’s happening, in urban centers and in rural parts of our country.
What does “food insecurity” really mean? The USDA defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Feeding America goes on to add that food insecurity “may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.” Did you ever take Psychology 101? That definition conjures up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There’s no question you need to have the basics before you can think about doing bigger things with your life.
Feeding America just launched a new interactive map documenting hunger on a national, state, and even county-by-county basis by child. They already had the map available as a resource, but now they have added data about children. Visitors to the map can drill down to see how many children in individual counties are food insecure. It’s deeply troubling to review these numbers, but I’m of the opinion that I’d rather know than not know.
I noticed that child food insecurity numbers are highly variable by state. Most interesting was the urban to rural comparisons. I thought that urban areas would have the highest numbers of people living with hunger, but many rural areas had childhood hunger numbers as high as or even higher than urban areas.
Here’s how you read the data:
I chose a random city: Salt Lake City, Utah. You can see that 14% of total people are food insecure, but a whopping 20% of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Kids suffer disproportionately to adults. On the upper right, 52% of kids who are food insecure receive food stamps (SNAP), but then there are the people who make “too much” to get that kind of assistance. I’m not sure how they calculate all of this, but the poverty level for 2011 is at $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four (source and resource). The people who make too much to get food stamps (SNAP) are the people who go to food pantries. Or they are people who were more recently impacted by a job loss or unexpected bills (usually healthcare related as many are uninsured).
As a contrast I chose a random rural area: Coffee county, Georgia. Compared to Salt Lake City, there are fewer people but more living with hunger. Hunger seen in kids is very high with 37% of kids living with food insecurity. An astounding 1 out of 3 kids is hungry on a regular or semi-regular basis. More of the children from this area are able to take advantage of food stamps (SNAP), but still 23% of their families make too much money to qualify for SNAP and have to find other sources, like food pantries or extended family, to get food on the table.
Information is power, but what do you do when you find out about all of this overwhelming need. Well, I can’t help but wonder why. The economy? A failure of education? Corporations outsourcing jobs? Lack of community gardens? Food deserts? No good jobs? Regardless of why, people are in hurting and are in need now. Here’s what you can do:
1) Volunteer at a local food bank or food pantry (Google your state and “food bank” or use volunteermatch.org)
2) Donate to Feeding America
3) Encourage Employer Giving
4) Advocate for Child Nutrition
5) Teach someone how to cook (I think of Dianasaur Dishes — what an inspiration)
6) Teach someone to garden or volunteer at a community garden.