Food insecurity is a reality for millions of Americans. According to the USDA, as of December 1, 2011, there are more than 50 million individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
Recipients of the SNAP program include the homeless, elderly, disabled, unemployed and underemployed individuals and children from all walks of life. According to Alliance to End Hunger, nearly one in four are children who live in households that do not have access to enough nutritious food.
And while SNAP benefits do help provide some food, such as: breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meats, fish and poultry, dairy products, as well as seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. An average household receives $283 a month in SNAP benefits. For millions, nutritious organically grown whole foods are not only unaffordable, they are simply out of reach.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, 23.5 million people live in areas that are miles from a supermarket. These communities; urban, rural and tribal, are known as food deserts. Residents living in these areas often lack access to healthy food and typically rely on cheap fast food and convenience stores that offer nutritionally poor processed food. (I won’t mention GMO foods here for the sake of NOT getting distracted)
An ever growing body of research that finds an association between food insecurity, obesity, diabetes and a host of other unhealthy outcomes. Researchers have confirmed what educators, child caregivers and healthcare professionals know through observation: When children don’t get enough nutritious food, they fall behind physically, cognitively, academically, emotionally and socially. They, their families, communities are affected — and we as a nation suffer the life-long consequences of reduced healthy outcomes.
How can we consider America to be a wealthy nation when the levels of poverty and food insecurity have risen to such a degree? Our government subsidizes the USDA, the USDA subsidizes corporate farms and allows for programs such as SNAP and school lunches but fails to deliver nutritious food that supports the vital health of our children. Instead of protecting the people for all these years, our government agencies have been protecting the interests of the top executives in major food corporations. Either way these long time conflicts of interest have failed to serve the true needs of children or done much to support or protect the health of its citizens.
Eleven-year-old Birke Baehr said it best, “We can pay the farmer, or we can pay the hospital.”
As informed citizens there are so many things we can do to improve our own lives, and the lives of children and others right where we are. We can support the local organic farmers in our towns. We can offer food banks organically grown wholesome food either by buying it or growing it. And maybe you don’t know this, but food banks are the other way that SNAP benefit recipients are able to survive at all. And with more and more people to feed, food banks and their resources are diminishing, every day a little more. Donations are significantly dwindling as grocery stores and produce suppliers scramble with budget considerations of their own.
Among those who recognize the impact of food insecurity and the solutions necessary to ending it are people like Debra Eschmeyer, an organic farmer and founder of FoodCorps. Debra is capturing the hearts of thousands across the nation, she’s leading communities where food insecurity is prevalent and calling on citizens to rise up in action to take a part in a wonderful vision. She’s the keynote speaker at the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) annual conference set for Jan. 20 -21 in Des Moines.
There are many different ways you can help meet the challenges ahead. There are several CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) farms in Iowa growing certified organic food that serve consumers in their area on a subscription basis. Produce grown locally is picked when it’s ripe, and more nutritious by far.
Many CSA’s are contributors of local food banks. Local Foods Connection is a wonderful group of community activists who not only donates fresh produce to low-income families, they teach about healthy meal preparation and growing food too. Donations go the extra mile when money goes towards growing food. On average, one dollar donated equals four dollars of nutritious food for those most at need.
As citizens, we can’t depend on the government to improve our future or provide foods that sustain our health, or the health of children and those precious others who live in our own neighborhoods.
Grab an oar, the world needs you.