The food industry plays politics just as well as any other industry. Food politics underlie all politics. There’s no industry more important to us or more fundamentally linked to our well-being and the future well-being of our children. Corporate control of the nation’s food system limits our choices and threatens our health. Over the last decade “food movements” have emerged. Industrialization of food production has social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs, high costs. Programs that have stimulated activism include: school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops, the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty”, farm bill reform, food safety regulation, farmland preservation, student organizing about food issues on campuses, efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure communities have access to healthy food, initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights, nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution, and regulating marketing messages and food ingredients – especially to kids.
Food for Thought
A recent article in Food and Wine talks about our current trend of political awareness and debate and some ways that the food industry is taking action and inspiring engagement. Here are some from the article I thought sounded interesting:
Potluck Nation Blog– Organizes dinners devoted to open communication and invites readers to do the same.
Coup – A New York City bar donates all profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Julia Turshen – a cookbook author who donates a portion of sales from her book Feed the Resistanceto the ACLU. In Julia’s words, “Food is an incredibly approachable way to understand people and also to get involved. At the end of the day, food is about people, and so are politics.”
Projects like these are just a small sample of what individuals and organizations are doing to build bridges and inspire more food movement participants to take action where and how they can to ease the struggles for social and economic justice in the food industry. I love how these grassroots projects come together in ways that are unique to people’s talents and passions.
PART THREE: FOOD INSECURITY – WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
“The future of nations will depend on how they feed themselves.” -Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
We need to work tirelessly to address this issue in the U.S., we need to engage our families, friends, and elected officials; make a difference school by school, neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town. How can we improve access to healthier and nutritious foods? How can we help feed the under-served? Unless we start making good food decisions that can stand the test of time and teach people how to help themselves, our society won’t be healthy and supplied with the food we need. What are smart solutions to nourish our people and our communities?
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.
We’ve created a world where foods seems to be the cause of many of our problems – Obesity, hunger, climate change, crime, economy, education, and mental health.
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.
Food can be used to bring us together and remind us where we came from.
Food is the foundation of who we are. It can tell the story of who we are and where we came from. We can celebrate our differences by sharing our traditional foods to bridge the gap between cultures and vitally connect our lives. Now more than ever, it’s important to face this issue head-on, how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it. From culture and energy, education and economy, environment and health, it is all connected through food and deserves our energy, attention, and action.
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.
It’s taken me a while to write this post. I suffered a major bout of Imposter Syndrome – who am I to talk about this? I’m not an expert – so on and so forth. Then, is my writing good enough? Who will I offend? There is SO MUCH to cover, how can I be expected to be thorough and accurate? Who cares? Well, I do. So, after being distracted by chores, tasks, family, wrapping up my broker business, and hey! look over there! Another shiny object!! I’m back with a lot to say and I hope you’ll be interested enough to take a few minutes to read along. If you missed Part One, click on the picture to read it:
FOOD INSECURITY AND THE HUMAN COST
Food is one of our basic needs, but food is much more than just nutrients. Food is a core element of our human cultural and social beliefs about what it means to nurture and be nurtured. Food plays a critical role in our health, economy, and culture and is what makes a sustainable, resilient community. Food systems (production, transformation/processing, distribution, access and consumption, waste/resource recovery) along with community planning and zoning, have disproportionately affected certain persons and communities. Many low-income and minority communities are not provided with healthy, affordable choices near enough to them to easily access. Americans have built incredible networks of systems of infrastructure that are necessary to our economy and quality of life. We have a national power grid, telecommunication systems, water systems, transportation systems and internet systems. Sadly, we haven’t updated our food system to bring it into the 21st century knowledge and needs. Food Equity and Food Insecurity impact all of us.
HERE ARE THE SAD FACTS
Access to SAFE & NUTRITIOUS food is considered a basic human right.
In the U.S. over 50 MILLION people live in POVERTY.
41 MILLION people live in FOOD INSECURE homes. (meaning they have limited access-physical and economic-to sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food to maintain a healthy and active life)
12.9 MILLION, 1 in 5 CHILDREN are food insecure in the U.S.
Are you hungry and can’t afford food on a regular basis? Probably not. Are you thinking, “That’s not my problem, the government gives assistance to people and they misuse the funds.” It is our problem, everyone’s problem. FOOD INEQUALITY leads to SOCIAL INEQUALITY and DISCRIMINATION. And it starts in the womb. Not convinced, let’s talk dollars and cents. What’s the cost of hunger in our country?
NEARLY $170 BILLION, THAT’S WHAT.
The annual cost of food insecurity is:
$130.5 billion due to illness costs linked to hunger and food insecurity.
$19.2 billion is the value of poor education outcomes due to poor educational outcomes and lower lifetime earning from experiencing hunger and food insecurity.
$17.8 billion in charitable contributions to hunger and food organizations.
Hunger costs $542 per year for EVERY citizen of the U.S.
Child hunger causes increased absenteeism, presenteeism (working while sick, affecting productivity), and turnover for employers. Children’s sick days cause parent absences from work.
Food insecurity creates a loss of over $19 billion in lifetime earnings due to high school absenteeism and having to repeat grades.
Childhood hunger costs at least $28 billion each year because poorly nourished children perform less well in school and require more long-term health care spending.
Workers who experienced hunger as children are less competitive in their work environment.
WOMB TO WELFARE – DON’T BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE
There is a lot of angst and opinions directed towards people on welfare; mostly centered on why and how long people use the system. This is neither the time nor space to argue and victim shame. I hope you’ll read along with an open heart and mind.
Hunger, Especially Childhood Hunger is a Health Problem
Hungry children are sick more often and likely to be hospitalized more often. The average pediatric hospital visit costs about $12,000.
Hungry children suffer growth impairment affecting them reaching their full physical potential.
Hungry children have developmental impairments limiting their physical, intellectual and emotional development.
We’re not just talking about young children here. Maternal health during pregnancy starts the cycle. Food isn’t the only factor either. Many women become severely depressed, overwhelmed and feel ashamed at having to rely on assistance and not provide for their family. Depression in the mother is strongly related to the development of children, the care that they receive, the attachment they feel, neglect, and abuse. Children experience toxic stress when frequent and/or prolonged adversity occurs. Assessing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is becoming a part of many healthcare givers’ protocol. ACEs are identified as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, exposure to violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and having an incarcerated household member. As ACEs increase, so do serious health risks. Although food security isn’t included in assessing ACEs, you can imagine how adding poor nutrition compounds the issues.
Let’s Talk Obesity – Food Insufficiency – Quality vs. Quantity
Yes, obesity IS a hunger and food insecurity issue. The most overeaten foods in the U.S. are high calorie and nutrient poor. These foods lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, joint degeneration, and general bad health and chronic illness. Eating a diet of fast food high in unhealthy fats, carbohydrates, sugar, and carbonated soft drinks leads to a higher probability of being overweight or obese. Low income, minority neighborhoods face disproportionately high rates of obesity and chronic illness. Obesity and chronic illness lead to missed work, inability to work, high medical costs, and low self esteem. These problems were once considered middle age issues but are now being found in younger and younger people.
Studies have shown obesity has a negative impact on emotional well-being. Overweight and obese children are often made fun of and seen as underachievers. This profoundly affects their psychological and social development. Their low self-esteem can increase loneliness, sadness, nervousness, smoking, and alcohol abuse. These problems often lead to underachievement in school or attempted suicide.
Long-term Consequences of Obesity
A study of former welfare recipients found that morbidly obese women trying to get off welfare and back into the workforce were less likely to find employment, spent longer on welfare, and had lower monthly earnings than non-obese women.
A difference in weight of about 65 pounds was associated with a 9% difference in earnings. The effect of weight on earnings is similar to the effect of 1.5 years of education or 3 years of work experience on wages earned.
Frequent fast food intake, reduced odds of adequate sleep, minimal daily fruit intake, and lack of physical activity participation increase the odds of obesity and adverse health. Food insufficiency and obesity have consequences for long-term economic productivity and security of individuals.
BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH RACIAL INEQUALITIES, BIAS, AND WHAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
People of color, women, and children are especially vulnerable. Of all food-insecure households, 25.1% are black households, 26.2% are Hispanic, 35.1% are households headed by single women, and 25.4% are headed by single men. Food deserts are centered in low-income, minority communities. The abundance of processed, packaged foods in stores in low-income communities instead of fresh fruit and vegetables can be looked at as a distribution issue. The longer shelf life of packaged, highly processed “FAKE” foods made with artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives makes distribution much easier and accounts for far less spoilage for the producer, distributor and retailer. These foods cost less too so why not truck them into low-income communities?!
A person’s earning potential largely depends on their education. Hunger, leading to health problems interferes with learning deficiencies and educational attainment which reduces earning capacity. Reduced earning capacity reduces lifetime earnings and economic and social contribution. When an individual experiences this it doesn’t only affect their contribution to society, it also impacts their children’s and continues the “cycle of poverty”.
Food Insecurity is the most significant predictor of violent crime. Every 1% increase in food insecurity results in a 13% increase in violent crime. The promise of food and social acceptance is used to lure youth into gangs. Food Insecurity also contributes to mental health issues. Suffering from food insecurity, especially during childhood, significantly increases the likelihood that an individual will also suffer from poverty and unemployment later in life increasing the odds that they’ll turn to crime.
Always a hot topic, food insecurity and the chronic illness and disease that goes along with it, contribute to high healthcare costs and health insurance premiums. Households with low food security incur health care expenses that are 49% higher than those who are food secure. And health care costs were 121% higher for those with very low food security. Higher costs cross a variety of health care services, including inpatient hospitalization, emergency room visits, physician services, home health care, and prescription drugs. And as food insecurity increased, so did health care costs. The U.S. continues to debate ways to contain health care costs and improve outcomes. Failing to confront health and hunger needs to be taken seriously to solve our healthcare challenges.
In closing, I’m going to leave you with this short video of slam poetry by Joshua Merchant of Youth Speaks.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
The good news is that the U.S. has seen a downward trend in food insecurity . The percentage of food insecure homes fell from 14.9% in 2011 to 12.3% in 2016. Federal nutrition programs play an important role making sure kids get enough to eat, regardless of their zip code. If Congress passes the proposed budget slashing nutrition programs we’ll see these numbers rise in every state across the nation.
Part Three will cover work that is being done across the country and action you can take in your own community. Thanks for reading along. I’d love to hear your comments so please comment below and share with anyone you think would be interested in this topic.
FOOD EQUITY: Everybody has access to healthy, fresh food – the right to quality food. Just because a person is poor doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have access to healthy food.
A Brief, But Necessary Departure From My Regular Themes
Have you been watching and reading the news like I have and feeling helpless and frustrated? Why is this hatred and violence happening now? What can I do to help slow down this out-of-control spiral we’re in? There are so many opinions and perceptions of why this is happening, what we should do about it, who’s right and who’s wrong? I realized that my passion for food and feeding people fits into a very big issue in our communities, Food Equity.
As I began to dig in deeper and deeper I realized it was going to take more than one quick blog post to talk about this issue. I decided to break it into three installments. In this first installment I’m defining some of the terms that are tossed around that may not be totally understood. Will you read along with me? Low income doesn’t directly CAUSE health issues. Low income populations are more susceptible because they don’t have access to fresh food. This situation results in higher stress and anxiety related to not being able to afford food.
Healthy Food and Drink Are Not Considered “Luxuries”
Inequality is more than just a political, social or philanthropic issue. The food and drink industry plays a big role in equality in our country and around the world. Access and affordability to healthy food and drink are a major roadblock to lower-income, marginalized people. Compounding the problem is this also puts them at higher risk for food-related health issues, like obesity and diabetes. Parents make choices like whether to pay for food or electricity – food or clothing – food or medical costs – food or bus fare to work. Those of us blessed with an abundance of food choices need to be aware of the people in our communities living on the edge of food insecurity. We have the luxury to consider food issues like “local”, non GMO, organic, natural and clean.
What Does it All Mean?
Along with air, water, and shelter, food is a necessity for life. Access to healthy food is not simply a health issue, it’s also a community development and social equity issue. Because of this, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food is key to not only a healthy, sustainable local food system, but also a healthy, sustainable community. Another consideration in food access is travel time. Travel time is a strong measurement of food access not only in distance, but also travel time, mode of transportation, and whether the location is urban or rural. The average travel time to the grocery stores is 15 minutes. In low income areas it is 19.5 minutes with less access to reliable transportation.
Food Systems are the processes and activities involved in bringing food to a community.
PRODUCTION: Production is the use of natural resources and human resources to grow edible plants and animals in urban, suburban, or rural settings.
TRANSFORMATION / PROCESSING: The transformation of raw food materials through processing, manipulating, and packaging to create a usable end product for consumption.
DISTRIBUTION: Distribution is the direct or indirect distribution and transportation of processed and unprocessed foods to wholesalers, warehouses, retailers, and consumers.
ACCESS AND CONSUMPTION: Access and consumption refer to the availability and accessibility of foods and their purchase, preparation, ingestion, and digestion.
WASTE / RESOURCE RECOVERY: Waste and resource recovery refer to the disposal of food-related material, waste, and by-products and their subsequent disposal, reuse, or recycling.
Food security is all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.
A Food Desert is defined by the 2008 USDA Farm Bill as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In particular an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities”. However, this is not a term that is totally embraced. Firstly, some find the term demeaning and having negative connotations portraying communities as being devoid of all assets, food and otherwise. Secondly, some people feel the term is just not accurate. They feel that racial and economic inequalities are more to blame for food access problems and that just the placement of large-scale supermarkets doesn’t solve the problem. The only access to food is corner stores carrying mostly processed food and food products with little or no fresh produce.
Food Swamp is used to refer to geographic areas without access to healthy food retail but an abundance of unhealthy food sources, like fast food restaurants. People living in FOOD DESERTS and FOOD SWAMPS have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses than those in neighborhoods were healthy food is accessible.
Food Sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food Sovereignty focuses on the importance of being able to make decisions, take control, and grow your own food.
Food Justice addresses the benefits and risks of how food is grown, produced, distributed. Including, the right to grow what you want and have access to healthy food and compensated fairly for it. Also, safe and healthy production and consumption of food.
Marginalization is when something or someone is pushed to the edge of a group and considered less important. For the most part, this is a social phenomenon where a minority or sub-group is excluded and their needs or desires are ignored.
How Food Equity Fits In to Our Current State of Affairs
With our privilege, we need to do additional work to reach people faced with food insecurity where they are and on their terms. When we hear about inner cities and low-income neighborhoods, violence, crime, drugs, and police brutality come to mind. Rarely discussed is the effect of cheap food and access the whole foods. Cheap food in underprivileged areas may keep people from starving but it’s killing them by heart attacks, obesity, dialysis, amputations, learning disabilities and, mental health issues.
The solution isn’t telling people what to eat. It lies in innovation and creating opportunity to participate in the food system. In my next post I’ll explore why Food Equity is important to consider when trying to sort out why we are struggling to find answers. In my final post on this topic we’ll explore what can be done and what is already being done to solve this issue.