I am switching things up a bit today to talk about something incredibly important: food insecurity. I feel compelled to write about this because food insecurity is a topic that I encounter every single day in my job at Open Arms of Minnesota, and I have become passionate about the role ALL of us can play in fixing it. I’m going to be very honest – I am privileged. I grew up privileged. If you’re reading this, you are probably privileged, too. Never once in my life have I been unaware of where my next meal was going to come from. I’ve never had to feel hunger without having quick access to food, and healthy, nutritious food for that matter. I am sad for my ignorance, but I never knew the extent of the hunger issue in our country, my state and my city until I was 24 and started working in community nutrition. That is embarrassing to admit, but luckily, here I am today sharing what I’ve learned with all of you! My hope is that after you read this, you’ll be inspired to take action with food insecurity issues in your own community.
Before I can dive into this post, we need to all be on the same page with what food insecurity even is. Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. According to Feeding America, 1 in 10 adults struggle with food insecurity, and 1 in 7 children struggle with food insecurity in Minnesota. Alarming, isn’t it? Your neighbor, your child’s classmates, your grandmother, your friend, your Starbucks barista, could all be struggling to meet their basic nutrition needs because they do not have the means to feed themselves.
Something that many people don’t realize is just how complex that food insecurity is. Some comments I have heard before include “why is this even an issue when they get free food from food shelves and food stamps anyway!” Well, with a little research, you would learn that food shelves and food stamps are meant to be supplemental. These are not meant to provide 100% of anyone’s nutrition needs. Many food shelves only allow participants 1 visit a month, and limit the amount of food that they can get. Not to mention that a lot of food that gets donated to food shelves is damaged, expired, unpalatable…so people often go home with food that they aren’t even able to eat or that ends up making them sick. Now, I know not every food shelf is like this and we’ve seen lots of improvements lately with food shelves adopting healthy food policies and quality standards to ensure the food their participants receive is equal to what you’d find in your standard grocery store. But we still have a long way to go.
Additionally, food stamps (now known as SNAP-the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are incredibly difficult to apply or qualify for, not to mention the unfortunate stigma that is often associated with receiving them. And even if one does qualify for SNAP, the average per meal cost is $1.86 for those who receive the maximum benefit each month. $1.86!!! And that cost is expected to lower if the proposed budget cuts to SNAP are rolled out in upcoming years. Let’s also not forget that participants of food shelves & SNAP typically get their benefits at the beginning of the month. It is common for them to start running out of food at the end of the month, with little to eat & not a whole lot of options. So, no, individuals who receive SNAP benefits are not without major challenges.
Another common misconception about hunger is that “people only buy unhealthy foods with their SNAP benefits.” Okay? Isn’t most of America buying unhealthy food with the money they have? Why do you deserve unhealthy, tasty, high-calorie food more so than a human who has less money than you? Also, if you have $1.86 to spend per meal for your family, what are you going to buy? A bag of spinach that provides not even 100 calories, or 3 boxes of mac & cheese that’s going to provide 2,100 calories? I know I would choose the latter, and you probably would too.
As you can see, the extent of the hunger issue in our country is complex. It’s a problem that a blog post can’t solve, but if we all take small steps to reduce hunger in our communities, we can accomplish a lot! For this reason, I’ve listed 4 steps that you can take to help.
4 Steps to Reduce Food Insecurity in your Community
1. Volunteer for or donate to hunger relief organizations in your community. Food pantries are a great place to start (click here to find a food pantry in your area). You could also help out at a food bank. If you’re in Minnesota, Food Group and Second Harvest Heartland are great options. I’d also HIGHLY recommend volunteering for Open Arms of Minnesota (where I work!). Although OAM technically isn’t a “hunger organization”, we cook & deliver medically tailored meals to individuals with life-threatening illnesses, many of who struggle with food insecurity.
2. Contact your state’s legislators and urge them to support hunger relief efforts. Encourage them to visit your local food bank or other hunger relief organizations. Ask them to protect nutrition programs that strive to keep families fed and healthy, such as SNAP. Tell them why combating food insecurity is important to you and your community. You can give them a phone call or write them a letter, or send a message through this Feeding America form.
3. Donate foods to your local food pantries. But not just any food. Make sure that the food you donate is food that YOU would eat. Don’t only donate when you’re cleaning out your pantry and throwing out expired food. It’s also a plus to bring healthy, nutritious foods to pantries. Healthy foods are difficult for food insecure individuals to access, and the easier we can make it for them, the better! Double-check before you donate to see if the pantry has a healthy food policy that you should adhere to.
4. Talk about food insecurity, and take the time to listen to the stories of those who face such challenges. I think many of us brush the issue of food insecurity aside and we don’t talk about it nearly enough. We truly cannot make a difference or understand it if we ignore it. I encourage you to have conversations with your friends & family about food insecurity. If you’re not comfortable with that, talk to someone who works in hunger relief and learn about the challenges people in your community are facing. Listen to the stories of those who are food insecure. If you take the time to listen, you’ll learn that individuals who face these challenges are people just like you and me, and deserve the exact same rights to quality food.
Food is a basic need. We literally cannot survive without food. It’s a simple concept, yet for whatever reason, our country does not seem to be on the same page in regards to it. But if we all put our heads and our hearts together, we can make a difference once and for all!