In her latest post, JBF senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller shares a personal reflection on the realities of food insecurity, offers some facts and figures on the problem nationwide, and relays some suggestions for how to start fighting for better food access today.
A few years ago, my husband and I moved into a new house. When we talked to real estate agents, we asked about proximity to the metro, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, and community centers, among other things. We were moving from an area of D.C. where farmers’ markets, bodegas, and grocery stores were all within quick walking distance. It never occurred to us that wouldn’t be the case in our new neighborhood.
Yes, that presumption was incredibly naïve, but it persisted until one day we needed milk and eggs. My husband Googled grocery stores and found that the nearest one was 1.6 miles from our house. An easy enough walk, if you have the time. There was a small organic market a little closer, just under a mile, but it was closed until noon. He decided to go to the corner store about six blocks from our house. A gallon of generic brand milk was over four dollars, double the average cost in D.C., and that day they didn't have any eggs.
Fortunately for us, we have a car and the flexibility to take a leisurely walk to the store if we want to. But that’s certainly not the case for everyone in our community, let alone the country. What does that mean for those with fewer resources?
The statistics around food insecurity and access are staggering. The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” According to Feeding America, "42.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children." And because this problem often has to be tackled family by family, one person at a time, it is considered very hard to fix.
It has been heartening to see so many chefs at work in this area, helping to raise money and awareness, volunteering their time and kitchens, donating to food pantries, and working with community organizations. Look around in your community and you'll certainly find one of the thousands of chefs at work with organizations such as Share Our Strength, Feeding America, and their local food banks and anti-hunger organizations.
All of this work is great, but what we need is change to our state and federal food policies. Chef José Andrés recently said that people of all political leanings should be united to make sure that every child has a plate of food “every day of their life,” and urged the government to add funding to bring food to children.
At a time when families and children in America are hungry, we are still waiting on Congress to confirm the nomination of Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture. While we wait, the Administration has proposed a 21 percent cut to the USDA budget, including cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Access Programs, one of the programs that help ensure that kids and families have access to nutritious food.
Here at the Beard Foundation, we're starting to look at ways to do more with anti-hunger organizations across the country, given the importance of this topic to our broader chef community. We'll continue to connect chefs with the organizations and advocacy groups focused on policies related to tackling food insecurity. We're also working to expand our Local Advocacy Training program to touch on food access and insecurity in places such as Missouri and North Carolina. For more information, please sign up for our Impact Newsletter.
In the meantime, I'm going to follow chef Andrés's call to action: “you’re here today to go out in the world, and start doing things. It doesn’t matter if it is small or it is big.” I hope you'll join us by getting more involved in your local community. Please check out this list of resources:
- For state-by-state statistics on food insecurity and hunger, check out Feeding America.
- Find out how chefs are working with No Kid Hungry.
- Find a food pantry in your area that takes donations.
Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.