I think we can all agree that the pandemic has forever changed many aspects of our culture (some better, some worse), and even though we are starting to get back to “normal” in many ways, some parts of our lives, like work and education, will probably never be the same again.
This strange new normal also has surfaced longstanding systemic issues and societal risks that many of us probably never put much thought into. One of these issues that has been brought to the forefront in a big way is one that we here at The Bonney Lake Food Bank think about every day: Food Security.
So, how important is this issue?
Well, the White House recently held its first hunger, nutrition, and health conference in over 50 years. From that conference, it released a bold goal:
End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Food Security is more than a domestic issue and has rapidly evolved into a focal point on the geopolitical stage. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the topics discussed by Biden and Xi Jinping at their recent talks in Bali:
President Biden underscored that the United States and China must work together to address transnational challenges – such as climate change, global macroeconomic stability including debt relief, health security, and global food security – because that is what the international community expects.
Do you remember this topic getting much attention anytime in recent history?
From my perspective, I think we’re long overdue. As someone who has witnessed the impacts on our community and what recent supply chain shocks and inflation has done, I can tell you we have much work to do from here to compensate for lost ground.
Food Security: Defined
So, what exactly is Food Security? Well, the official definition from the USDA says:
“Food insecurity is defined as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food”
Another great article that sums it up well can be found here from health.gov.
One more place I went for answers is a recently released website called ChatGPT, which gives you access to OpenAI and allows you to ask pretty much any question and get a detailed response.
When I asked ChatGPT the definition “it” told me:
Food insecurity is a situation in which people do not have access to enough food to lead a healthy and active life. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including poverty, lack of access to food stores or markets, and natural disasters. Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition and a range of other health problems.
This definition of food insecurity is based on the one commonly used by organizations that work on food security and hunger-related issues. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is one such organization, and they define food insecurity as "a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life." The definition I provided is similar to this one, but I have put it into my own words.
In addition to these more formal definitions, you can also look at food insecurity through the lens of both physical and economic access. Here’s a bit of what I mean by that:
Physical access is pretty self-explanatory. Do you have the ability to go and get the food you need from the store? This usually comes to mind when people think of challenges like transportation or with community members that are disabled and/or homebound. Neighborhood conditions may affect physical access to food as some may have limited access to full-service supermarkets or grocery stores.
Economic access means you can afford the food that fits the criteria mentioned in the definition (again, remember it is important that the food be sufficient, safe, and nutritious). The reality, especially in many rural areas (like here in East Pierce), is that many of us live in food deserts or swamps. More information on the differences between these two (and a few others) can be found here.
Even if you can physically access the food you need, what if the nutrition you need is not nutritious? What about being put in a situation where you can’t afford to purchase healthy, nutritious options due to rising costs or other barriers to access?
This is what I mean by tradeoffs, and this is how I define food security.
You see, many times, the perception of who organizations like ours help are chronically homeless, but the reality is that the vast majority of our customers have to make decisions around what they sacrifice in their lives to meet their basic needs. Here are some of the questions we know that our customers are asking themselves all too often:
Do I pay for my medicine or purchase food for my family?
Can I afford a birthday present for my child, or do I use that money to purchase basic staples?
Can I afford gas this month if I also buy healthy food for my children?
These are questions that are hard to answer, and for anyone who has had to ask them, it can be something you won’t soon forget.
We believe a big part of our role in this community is to help alleviate these worries from our customers and, hopefully, ensure they do not have to make these tradeoffs as often. This is what we mean by our mission statement:
Provide equitable access to nutritious food, with dignity, to those in the community facing food insecurity
Think about this next time you are at the store and frustrated with the rising food costs because the tradeoffs to grapple with those costs can be much more impactful for some.
If this story and our mission resonate with you, we would love your help. You can learn about the different ways you can do that by clicking the buttons below: